Duterte questions indemnity provision in vaccine deals

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    PRESIDENT Duterte on Monday night questioned the requirement of pharmaceutical companies for government to assume liability for adverse effects of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines bought from the firms.

    The President last month signed the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 which, among others, provides a P500-million indemnification fund for those who may show adverse side effects after getting the jabs, and allows local government units and the private sector to purchase the vaccines.

    “The government cannot guarantee much less give you an immune status na (that) you are freed of any and all liability… I think we cannot even do that even if we wanted to, yung assumption of liability,” he said Monday night in his regular weekly address.

    Yesterday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said issued a clarification . He said the President was merely explaining that not all responsibility should be assumed by the government, particularly if it involves “gross negligence and wilful neglect.”

    Roque said the President is aware of the law.

    “Ang sabi nga lang niya, hindi siya papayag na walang pananagutan ang pribadong sektor kung mayroong gross negligence at saka willful neglect (What he was saying was that he will not allow that the private sector will not have any responsibility if there gross negligence and wilful neglect),” he said.

    Duterte said vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. should inform the vaccine manufacturer that the government cannot agree, especially if the vaccine is not as good as the firm says it is.

    He also said the indemnity clause in vaccine procurement contracts could even be “illegal.”

    He said there are a lot of loopholes in the indemnity provisions of the law and the Congress may need to address the matter.

    Galvez, chief implementer of the National Task Force against the Coronavirus Disease (NTF), told the President that all contracts for vaccine procurement have an indemnification clause.

    He said the government cannot delegate the responsibility for indemnity to the private sector or LGUs after the national government has signed the tripartite agreements.

    Also on Monday night, the President chided critics for politicizing the vaccine procurement and rollout program, saying some people are trying to “paint the government black” as the election period nears.

    “That’s what you would call the classic case of — if you want to appear white, you paint the other guy black — para ang labas mo puting-puti ka (That’s what you would call the classic case of if you want to appear white, you paint the other guy black so you would appear white,” Duterte said.

    He said some people want to appear as “Mr. Clean” while portraying others as bad, which is already an old practice.

    ‘UNBELIEVABLE’

    Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said he found Duterte’s statements about the indemnity provisions “unbelievable,” noting Duterte certified the vaccine bill as urgent and signed in into law.

    Besides, Drilon said, it was Galvez and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III who proposed the measure in efforts to hasten the delivery of vaccines as vaccine manufacturers want exemption from liability if their products cause serious adverse effects to vaccine takers.

    Drilon earlier said the indemnification requirement of COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers was due to the mishandling by the Public Attorney’s Office of the case of the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

    Rep. Alfredo Garbin (PL, Ako Bicol) said the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 mandated the creation of the P500-million indemnity fund because vaccine manufacturers require that indemnification be covered by the national government before finalizing any procurement deal.

    The vaccination law provides a legal framework for the vaccination program, including the participation of private entities under tripartite agreements with the national government and the manufacturers.

    “The requirement for a tripartite agreement is specified for three reasons: manufacturers of available COVID-19 vaccines require that indemnification be covered by the national government before finalizing any procurement deals; it is the national government that will shoulder the cost of adverse effects; and available vaccines are only those provided with EUA (emergency use authorization),” he said. – With Raymond Africa and Wendell Vigilia