MANILA— The Department of Health said Wednesday there are still no implementing rules and guidelines for the implementation of the indemnification law for COVID-19 vaccines 2 months after the measure was enacted.
The law establishes an indemnity fund that would cover side effects that some may experience after inoculation against COVID-19. It came about after vaccine manufacturers sought protection against potential liability claims.
An official of the agency admitted the lack of implementing rules and guidelines in a joint hearing of the House of Representatives' Committees on Health and Trade and Industry.
The revelation came during the interpellation of Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje by Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas.
"Sinabi sa atin may guidelines na on indemnification fund di ba, para dun sa nagkaroon ng adverse effects. Pumapasok na kasi 'yung bakuna, nagbabakuna na tayo, tapos hindi po namin alam kung ano 'yung guidelines, at nasaan na? May kopya po ba para dun sa guidelines on indemnification fund?" Brosas asked Cabotaje.
(We were told there are already guidelines on the indemnification fund for those who will have side effects. The vaccines are coming in, we are already vaccinating, and we still don't know the guidelines? Where are they? Do you have a copy?)
In response, Cabotaje said the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) was tasked to come up with the guidelines and that these were being finalized.
Dr. Mary Antonette Remonte, the Philhealth representative, explained: "Philhealth is currently finalizing 'yung pong ano (what) specific guidelines for approval of the board and eventually the management so that we can release already for the information of all our citizens. It took us a while because studying this carefully, we have to go about it as well as we have to consider the available resources as provided by law."
Remonte's explanation did not sit well with Brosas, noting that the vaccine rollout has already begun.
"Bakit naman ganoon, nauna 'yung rollout ng vaccines pero 'yung guidelines para sa ating indemnification fund ay hindi pa lumalabas. They are saying na finalizing pa lang, they are finalizing that. Delikado po ito sa mga mamamayan natin na nagkaroon na ng adverse effects sa kanila, paano nila ito maappeal at paaano natin ito mabibigay sa kanila? Hindi ko po maintindihan kung bakit wala tayong guidelines for now," Brosas said.
(Why is it like that, we have rolled out the vaccines and the guidelines for the indemnification fund are not yet out. They are saying they are still finalizing. This is dangerous for people who might suffer adverse effects, how will they make an appeal and how will we give [the funds] to them? I don't understand why we still don't have guidelines for now.)
Trade and Industry Committee Chair, Navotas Rep. John Rey Tiangco agreed and asked when PhilHealth's deadline is for drafting the guidelines.
Remonte explained that the law, administrative orders, and their requirements had to be studied
"This indemnification fund is a new, an additional mandate of PhilHealth and we have no experience yet on how to administer this. We are only administering to yung mga hospitalization. So we have to study the law and consult also yung mga legal [the legal office] as well as the DOH, who is our partner, para 'yung mga verification saka mga assessment as to sino ba talaga yung eligible for indemnification (for the verification and assessment of those eligible for indemnification)," Remonte explained.
Tiangco got the PhilHealth representative to confirm that the guidelines still have to go through other levels of approval and consultation with the DOH, Department of Finance and the Department of Budget and Management.
Remonte said they are scheduled to present Thursday, then to the board next week, then finally to offices that need to be consulted under the law's provisions.
"And then we can already release the guidelines," she said.
Government began COVID-19 vaccinations in March. As of Wednesday, the Philippines has inoculated more than 1.3 million Filipinos against the virus, according to government data.
In a vaccine statistics bulletin, the DOH said that as of April 21, a total of 1,562,563 vaccine doses have already been administered. Out of those, 209,456 were second doses.
The remaining 1,353,107 were first doses, which means that the same number of individuals received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.