House OKs COVID-19 vaccine procurement bill

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 22 2021 10:10 PM

MANILA - Voting 225-0-6, the House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading House Bill 8648, expediting the purchase and administration of COVID-19 vaccines and creating a P500 million indemnification fund.

The bill will be transmitted to the Senate for its action.

Otherwise known as the "COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021,” the bill will authorize the Department of Health (DOH) and the National Task Force (NTF) to procure COVID-19 vaccines, including ancillary supplies and services necessary for their storage, transport, deployment and administration, through negotiated procurement under emergency cases.

Under the bill, the DOH and NTF shall be authorized to negotiate and approve the terms and conditions in behalf of the local government units and other procuring entities. Provinces, cities and municipalities may procure or accept donations only in cooperation with the DOH and NTF through a multiparty agreement, which will include the DOH and the relevant supplier or donor of COVID-19 vaccine.

Private entities may procure COVID-19 vaccines only in cooperation with the DOH and NTF through a multiparty agreement. Any such vaccines, supplies or services procured by private entities shall be for the sole and exclusive use of such companies.

Priority in the inoculation will be given to its health care workers, senior citizens, economic frontliners, and essential workers. Nothing will prohibit private entities from procuring directly from manufacturers, or its authorized distributors or suppliers once the COVID-19 vaccines become commercially available. 

Licensed pharmacists and midwives duly trained by the DOH may administer vaccines which are registered and issued with an EUA by the FDA.

The bill would also create a COVID-19 National Vaccine Indemnity Fund, which shall be administered by the PhilHealth in case of death, permanent disability or hospitalization confinement for anyone vaccinated. 

The amount of P500 million has also been authorized to augment the funds of PhilHealth for this purpose, which shall be sourced from the Contingent Fund as provided under Republic Act 11518 or the General Appropriations Act of 2021. 

Beginning January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2023, the procurement, importation, donation, storage, transport, deployment, and administration of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVID-19 Vaccination Program by the government or any of its political subdivisions and by private entities shall be exempt from customs duties, value-added tax, excise tax, donor's tax, and other fees.

Subject to the provisions of RA 10173 or the "Data Privacy Act of 2012", the DOH shall issue a "vaccine passport" to all Filipinos, which shall be a record of the COVID-19 vaccinations received by an individual. The vaccine passport program is intended to be digital, but shall remain accessible through other means such as printed passports. 

The DOH, through the Department of Information and Communications Technology, shall develop the digital systems and applications that are consistent with the objectives of the program while maintaining quality, safety, ease of use, and accessibility for all Filipinos. Individuals who have completed COVID-19 immunization may be granted certain benefits or exemptions, subject to guidelines issued by the IATF, which shall be clearly stated in the individual's vaccine passport, such as, but not limited to: (a) International travel, as may be allowed in foreign jurisdictions; (b) Non-essential domestic travel; (c) Local checkpoint and quarantine exemptions; and (d) Access to business establishments allowed to operate based on IATF guidelines.

Individuals vaccinated against COVID-19 as indicated in the vaccine passport shall not be considered immune from COVID-19, unless otherwise declared by the DOH based on reliable scientific evidence and consensus.

No fees shall be collected for the issuance, amendment, or replacement of a vaccine passport. The penalty of imprisonment of not less than three years, but not more than 10 years and a fine of not less than P15,000 but not more than P60,000 shall be imposed upon any person who shall commit the following acts: 1. Defacing, mutilating, altering, or destroying a vaccine passport; and 2. Possessing more than one valid vaccine passport. 

Kabataan Party List Rep. Sarah Elago delivered a manifestation expressing the Makabayan bloc’s reservations on the bill. The Makabayan bloc, composed of Elago, Bayan Muna Reps. Carlos Zarate, Ferdie Gaite and Eufemia Cullamat, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro comprise the 6 who abstained from voting.

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