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Solon urges use of gov’t air assets for vaccine distribution

IN preparation for the arrival of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines, Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas is calling on the government to conduct immediate inventory of air assets owned or leased by civilian government agencies, and government owned- and controlled- corporations (GOCCs).

With the target of at least 60 million Filipinos, it is expected that vaccine distribution could reach far-flung areas in the country, Vargas said.

And the distribution would be faster using planes and helicopters of civilian government agencies and GOCCs since they are smaller in size compared to C-130s used by the military, which means they can land on short runways, the solon added.

“While our Air Force has its work already cut out for them, the government would need more logistical support to roll out the COVID-19 immunization program immediately. We need to have as much of our people vaccinated as fast as we can,” he stressed.

Vargas noted that some GOCCs, like the Philippine National Oil Company, own helicopters for their aerial surveys or transport of personnel.

Some civilian agencies or GOCCs also maintain aircraft on fractional corporate lease or “timeshares,” where they are allotted a certain time to use the aircraft for a month or a certain period.

This means, Vargas said, that an aircraft on lease can still be used for transporting vaccines using the time allotted for the lessee concerned if the plane or helicopter is available for deployment.

“To ensure the efficient use of aircraft owned by GOCCs and civilian agencies, they must temporarily be placed under the military’s flight operations or control for the specific purpose of vaccine distribution,” Vargas added.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director General Eric Domingo said a COVID-19 vaccine could be rolled out in the Philippines in March 2021 if the agency issues emergency use authorization (EUA) by January next year.

President Rodrigo Duterte recently signed an executive order allowing the FDA to issue EUA for COVID-19 vaccines and drugs. The EUA would speed up the processing time for approval of a vaccine, from the usual six-month review period to only one month.

Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the country’s vaccine czar and chief implementer of the National Task Force against COVID-19, said the government targets to vaccinate at least 75 percent to 80 percent of the population to achieve herd immunity.