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Indemnity for vaccine side effects

/ 04:01 AM February 16, 2021

The delivery of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines is being held in abeyance pending Congress’ enactment of an indemnification law.

That statement was made by Carlito Galvez Jr., the government’s point person on the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, in a Senate hearing last week. He said that law was aimed at giving compensation to persons who may develop serious side effects from the vaccine.

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Under the proposed law, an indemnity fund would be established by companies that would supply the government with COVID-19 vaccines by depositing one percent of their contract price with the national treasury. The fund would be managed by a Vaccines Compensation Board.

By requiring an indemnification law prior to the delivery of its vaccine, Pfizer wants to shield itself from possible damage suits in case its vaccine gives rise to serious medical issues to its recipient.

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If Pfizer’s indemnification scheme passes muster in Congress, all suppliers of government-authorized COVID-19 vaccines would benefit from it.

The law would, in effect, shift the burden of compensating Filipinos who may suffer from vaccine-related illnesses from the pharmaceutical companies to the government.

Pfizer cannot be faulted for thinking ahead before delivering its vaccine. Apparently, it does not want to find itself in the situation that fellow pharmaceutical company, Sanofi Pasteur Inc., is in at present in connection with deaths allegedly caused by Sanofi’s dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia.

Recall that in 2017, Persida Acosta, the head of the Public Attorney’s Office, filed civil and criminal suits against the local branch of Sanofi and former officials of the Department of Health who approved Dengvaxia’s use. The cases are still pending in court.

The business sector should take interest in the proposed indemnification fund. Although the COVID-19 vaccines developed by pharmaceutical companies have received approval from their regulators, there are lingering doubts about their efficacy to persons at certain age levels and to virus variants that have recently emerged.

Despite those concerns, however, some private companies have been making arrangements, on their own, with pharmaceutical companies.

Due to the delicate nature of the vaccine, not to mention its high cost, it is reasonable to assume these companies will strictly comply with the prescribed protocols on their delivery, storage and injection.

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If none of the employees who were injected do not suffer any serious side effects, well and good. The company and its employees can enjoy the comfort of a safe work environment.

But sometimes good intentions do not translate to good results.

In case (knock on wood) an employee injected with the vaccine develops serious medical side effects, would the company be obliged to provide him or her with the medical treatment needed to bring him or her back to good health?

Strictly speaking, since the side effects came from the vaccine administered by the company, it can be held liable for the adverse effects of the injection. That would mean paying for the employee’s hospital bills and medicines and, probably, giving him or her leave with pay.

The unintended or unexpected consequences of a vaccine gone wrong could put an additional financial burden on any company, more so if it is hardly able to keep its nose out of the water.

If only for humanitarian reasons, however, desisting from giving employees the vaccine when the company can afford it because of possible post-injection expenses may not be a good move.

In anticipation of any government-approved vaccine procured by the companies for their employees could result in serious medical side effects, the business sector should lobby in Congress for the inclusion of their employees in the indemnification fund.

The fact that the companies did not go through the government procurement system in securing vaccines should not disqualify their staff from enjoying the benefits of the fund. The companies should even be commended for not using government funds to buy the vaccines.

Lest we forget, employees of private companies are Filipino citizens, too, who are entitled to assistance and protection from the government. INQ

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TAGS: Business, vaccine
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