Congress okays bill to expedite vax purchase

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco on Monday expressed high hopes the country’s first COVID-19 vaccines will arrive sooner after the House of Representatives unanimously passed on final reading a bill seeking to expedite the government’s purchase and administration of the life-saving shots against the deadly disease.

“We hope the bill will serve its noble purpose of helping the national government hasten the purchase and administration of the vaccine against COVID-19, which already killed more than 12,000 people nationwide and sent the economy into deep contraction,” Velasco said.

With 225 affirmative votes, no negative vote and six abstentions, lawmakers passed on third and final reading House Bill 8648, or the proposed COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 filed by Velasco, Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Minority Leader Joseph Stephen “Caraps” Paduano and Quirino Rep. Junie Cua.

The bill provides for a COVID-19 vaccination program that would address the adverse impact of the disease through the procurement and administration of safe and effective vaccines by the national government.

This is through the Department of Health (DOH), the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF), and other duly constituted authorities and instrumentalities in an expeditious, efficient and equitable manner.

At the Senate, Sen. Panfilo Lacson inquired from Senate Finance Committee chairperson Sen. Sonny Angara about the basis of the P500 million indemnity fund following the DOH projection that only 300 individuals will suffer adverse effects from the COVID-19 vaccination.

Angara, sponsor of Senate Bill No. 2057 or Vaccination Bill, admitted there is no real basis. “It’s just an estimate of what we think would be sufficient to achieve many purposes such as allay the fears of the manufacturers,” he said.

Angara said the P500 million is on top of whatever the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) corporate budget will be able to provide.

If the rate of adverse effect will be used for the 70 million people to be innoculated in the country, it would appear that only 350 to 370 individuals will possibly have side effects of the COVID vaccines, Lacson notesd.

“If P700,000 will be maximum amount of health insurance coverage and we are talking say 370 persons based on data, then we might be talking at least half of P500 million. Im not saying we reduce but something to consider,” noted Lacson.

The vaccination program recognizes the experimental nature of COVID-19 vaccines available in the market and the need to compensate any serious adverse effects arising from the use of the vaccine.

Salient features of the House measure include giving NTF the authority to negotiate and approve the terms and conditions in behalf of procuring entities, including but not limited to the price and payment terms;

Allowing local government units (LGUs) and private entities, in coordination with the DOH and NTF, to enter into a multiparty agreement with the DOH and relevant supplier for the procurement of vaccines; tax exemptions for the purchase, importation, storage, transport, distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines by LGUs; and the setting up of a P500-million indemnity fund for the adverse events following immunization.

The third reading approval of HB 8648 came a few hours after the House passed it on second reading, as a result of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte certifying the measure as urgent.

The President’s certification allowed the legislative chamber to dispense with the three-day interval in passing bills on second and third readings.

Speaker Velasco said the next crucible in the fight against the pandemic is the speedy procurement and effective administration of vaccines against COVID-19.

“Time is of the essence. Each day of delay is very costly for the government, and leaves many of our vulnerable countrymen exposed to the dangers of this disease,” Velasco stressed.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) estimates that every week of enhanced community quarantine or modified enhanced community quarantine in the National Capital Region and its adjacent regions alone shaves off 0.28 percentage points from GDP growth, which is equivalent to around P2.1 billion in lost wages a day.

According to NEDA, the country’s GDP fell by 16.9 percent and the unemployment rate increased to 17.7 percent during the peak of quarantine restrictions.

For the entire 2020, the GDP plunged 9.5 percent—the steepest economic contraction in Philippine history, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority which began collecting annual data in 1947.

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