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House panel OKs tax, duty exemption for Covid vaccines

A measure seeking to exempt Covid-19 vaccines from duties and value-added tax (VAT) hurdled committee level at the House of Representatives.

During a hearing yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, approved a consolidated substitute bill proposing to make the Covid-19 vaccines tax-free to ensure the fast, efficient, and safe delivery of the vaccines.

Salceda said all economic policy during the pandemic must be geared toward being a bridge to a Covid-19 vaccine.

“One day saved from the tax refund system, and one day of not having to deal with customs procedures is worth billions in economic output. As President Duterte said, when he cited a figure I calculated, we are losing some P20 billion pesos in economic output due to delays in vaccination. So, the revenue impact of these bills matters very little to me, in view of their overwhelming economic importance,” Salceda said.

Bagong Henerasyon Party-list Rep. Angelica Natasha Co, an author of the bill, said the government need not gain financially from the importation and distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines because the country’s immediate gain is the “further reopening of the economy and onwards to the new normal” with the coronavirus still a lingering threat.

“Public health, public safety, and our economic security require that all impediments, including cost constraints, to the swift and effective implementation of the vaccination program, must be cast aside,” Co said.

The Philippines is ready to begin its coronavirus inoculation drive by Feb. 15, Malacañang also said yesterday.

In an online press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the first batch of the vaccines that will be coming from drugmakers Pfizer-BioNtech and AstraZeneca under the sealed agreement with the Covax Facility would arrive in mid-February.

He said that while there is no definite date yet for the arrival of the vaccines, it would only take a day or two to start the vaccination program once the first batch arrives.

“It’s just a matter of when the plane carrying the Pfizer vaccines will actually land in NAIA. There is no exact date yet for the vaccines’ arrival, but even now we are 100 percent ready to start the vaccination campaign,” he said.

National Policy Against Covid-19 chief implementer, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., said some 117,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer will be the first to arrive and these will be delivered in one tranche.

It would be followed by the arrival of around 5,500,000 to 9,290,400 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to be delivered on the first and second quarter of this year, he added.

Galvez said the government will strictly follow the regulation of the World Health Organization in using the vaccines acquired from the Covax facility, including the prioritization of healthcare workers, vulnerable sector, and indigent senior citizens in the country’s inoculation plan.*PNA

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