As the world eagerly awaits viable Covid-19 vaccines, no other commodity will be as anticipated and valued as these vaccines when they are available. And the delivery of this valuable shipment requires mammoth cooperation and planning on a scale never seen before.
The equivalent of 8,000 Boeing 747 cargo aircraft is needed just to deliver the vaccines - based on the assumption on a single dose, said the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
The association is now urging governments to begin careful planning with industry stakeholders to ensure full preparedness when vaccines for Covid-19 are approved and available for distribution.
“Safely delivering Covid-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry. But it won’t happen without careful advance planning. And the time for that is now," said IATA’s director general and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac.
"We urge governments to take the lead in facilitating cooperation across the logistics chain so that the facilities, security arrangements and border processes are ready for the mammoth and complex task ahead,” he added.
Dozens of research teams are racing round the clock to develop a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. There are currently 29 vaccines being tested in multiple human trials, running simultaneously around the world.
IATA also warns of potentially severe capacity constraints and complex logistical challenges in transporting vaccines by air when they become available.
Vaccines must be handled and transported in line with international regulatory requirements, at controlled temperatures and without delay to ensure the quality of the product.
Other priorities key to preparing facilities for this distribution include availability of temperature-controlled facilities and equipment, along with staff trained to handle time- and temperature-sensitive vaccines. Robust
monitoring must be in place to ensure the integrity of the vaccines is maintained and to prevent tempering and theft to the shipments.
Working effectively with health and customs authorities will, therefore, be essential to ensure timely regulatory approvals, adequate security measures, appropriate handling and customs clearance.
But with the pandemic's cooling effect on global air travel and passenger traffic, IATA warned that airlines' downsized networks and the Covid-19 prevention measures put in place by governments will increase shipping and processing times.
“Even if we assume that half the needed vaccines can be transported by land, the air cargo industry will still face its largest single transport challenge ever. In planning their vaccine programmes, particularly in the developing world, governments must take very careful consideration of the limited air cargo capacity that is available at the moment," said de Juniac.
"If borders remain closed, travel curtailed, fleets grounded and employees furloughed, the capacity to deliver life-saving vaccines will be very much compromised," he warned.