Senate OKs vaccine bill ‘sans vaccines’

By: Melvin Gascon - Philippine Daily Inquirer | February 24,2021 - 06:54 AM

MOCK JAB A senior citizen waits for his turn at a mass vaccination dry run at Legarda Elementary School in Sampaloc, Manila. —RICHARD A. REYES

The Senate on Tuesday passed on final reading a measure setting up the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program, with senators mockingly praising the passage of the bill even if no vaccine has arrived in the country.

Senate Bill No. 2057, which was approved unanimously, expedites the procurement and administration of COVID-19 vaccines, and provides funds for the purpose.

“With this measure, we hope to see the start of the inoculation of our population, starting with the priority sectors, at the shortest possible time,” Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chair of the Senate committee on finance, said.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri congratulated his colleagues for the passage of the measure.

“We are probably the first country in the world to legislate vaccine procurement and implementation, without a single vaccine,” he said.

Marathon hearings

The bill, which was certified urgent by President Duterte, was passed on second and third readings on Tuesday, following marathon hearings on the debates and the period of amendments.

The measure authorizes the national government, local governments and the private sector to buy vaccines through the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) and the Department of Health (DOH).

It also allows local governments to directly purchase support supplies and services, such as syringes, freezers, as well as hire storage and hauling services, that will be needed in the deployment of the vaccines.

The measure also exempts the purchase and importation of vaccines and ancillary supplies from taxes and duties, Angara said, one of the main authors of the measure.

Exemption from restrictions

He said Congress sought the passage of the bill following the clamor of local governments that they be exempted from restrictions in purchasing vaccines under the procurement and auditing laws, as well as the Local Government Code of 1991.

He noted that “a significant number” of local governments have started preparing for the rollout of their vaccination programs and were waiting for the enactment of the bill.

“The bill will provide legal cover to the [local governments], many of which have intimated to us their concern about possible adverse findings by the Commission on Audit and even graft cases that may be filed against their officials,” Angara said.

Under the approved bill, the private sector will also be allowed to buy their own COVID-19 vaccines, but it will be done in cooperation with the DOH and the NTF, through multiparty agreements.

The measure also establishes a national vaccine indemnity fund to compensate citizens who may suffer death, injuries or any “severe adverse effects,” after receiving COVID-19 vaccines approved by the government. INQ

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