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PH airline companies eyed as vaccine carriers

A HOUSE leader on Sunday urged the government to tap Philippine Airlines (PAL) and other local airline companies in the transport and delivery of coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) vaccines to the country.

“I am assuming that we will get the vaccines from where they are being produced. Instead of foreign carriers, let us use local airlines to help them earn more at this time of pandemic so they would keep their employees,” House Assistant Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo said.

Castelo said foreign airlines could be tapped if their Filipino counterparts could not meet the requirements for transporting COVID-19 vaccines.

She noted that there have been estimates that it would take more than 50 Boeing 777 freighters to fly 60 million doses to Manila.

Once the vaccine arrives in the country, the next challenge is to transport it to the regions, provinces, cities, and towns, which would require the use of local airlines as well, she said.

Aside from PAL, the other major domestic air carriers are AirAsia Philippines and Cebu Pacific. There are other smaller airlines flying from Manila, Clark and other regional hubs.

“The government can help them avoid shedding more manpower if it can engage their services in the delivery of the vaccine,” Castelo stressed.

At the same time, Castelo renewed his appeal for the Department of Health and the inter-agency task force in charge of COVID-19 response to prepare early for the storage and distribution of the much-awaited doses.

She has filed House Bill (HB) No. 8000, which mandates that the state “shall amply prepare cold storage facilities for storing and safekeeping of COVID-19 vaccines in anticipation of their arrival and mass distribution to the Filipino people.”

The bill empowers the Department of Health (DoH) to “urgently prepare for the provision” of such facilities “in accordance with specifications that are suitable for the safekeeping of the vaccines.”

Now that several drug companies have reported that their vaccines against the new coronavirus have an efficacy rate of 70 percent to 95 percent, Castelo said many countries are ramping up preparations for receiving and distributing doses to their people.

“Considering that our country is a populous nation and is an archipelago, a safe and effective mass distribution of the vaccine requires ample planning and preparation,” she said.

Castelo said President Duterte wanted at least 20 million poor Filipinos to receive free inoculation against the virus.

She said based on information on the Internet, vaccines can be stable for 30 days at temperatures ranging from two degrees to eight degrees Celsius.

Longer storage would require temperatures below freezing point so vaccines won’t spoil, she said.

“Establishing or finding safe storage facilities with such specification and standard in Metro Manila, the regions and in provinces, cities and towns, will be a big challenge for the DoH (Department of Health),” she added.