Philippine’s Duterte urges Congress to pass bill to expedite COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Manila: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has asked Congress to quickly approve a bill granting indemnity to COVID-19 vaccine makers from legal claims stemming from their emergency use, in a bid to fast-track a lagging immunisation programme.

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The legislation seeks to settle the question of who pays for claims for damages in the event of adverse effects from the inoculations, which has been a sticky point in supply negotiations.

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Duterte’s spookesman Harry Roque said a swift approval of the bill would “ensure the timely and efficient implementation of the government’s COVID-19 mass vaccination programme”.

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The Philippines is negotiating supply agreements with seven manufacturers for 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, so it can inoculate 70 million adults, or two-thirds of its more than 108 million population.

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Vaccine manufacturers want protection from future product liability claims before they deliver the shots, authorities have said.

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The bills pending in both houses of Congress seek to create a 500 million peso ($10.31 million) indemnification fund to cover adverse effects from the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Carlito Galvez, a former general in charge of the country’s COVID-19 vaccinations strategy, has said the absence of an indemnification programme has delayed delivery of 117,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech shots through the COVAX facility.

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The government had planned to use those, which were due to arrive in mid-February, to kick off its vaccination campaign.

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Further delays could derail economic recovery after the country’s worst contraction on record last year, when it slumped 9.5%, the worst in Southeast Asia.

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It has the region’s second-highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths, at 555,163 and 11,673, respectively.

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