Covid vaccine delivery will take 2 years before full distribution

AIR Cargo executives say they expect it will take two years for a vaccine to reach all of the world's population, reports the Wall Street Journal

08 October 2020 - 19:00
AIR Cargo executives say they expect it will take two years for a vaccine to reach all of the world's population, reports the Wall Street Journal.

'If 50 million doses were available today, could we distribute them?' asked Glyn Hughes, head of cargo at the International Air Transport Association (IATA). 'The answer is almost certainly 'No', for every jurisdiction.'

Shippers say they are having to plan without knowing exactly how many vaccine doses they'll have to ship, where they will be manufactured and how cold they have to be kept.

Pharmaceutical companies say they expect the bulk of vaccine supplies to be transported by air. Cargo-airline executives are working on a delivery schedule that assumes initial batches become available during the traditional peak season for shipping that runs from fall through early February.

Carriers such as FedEx and the DHL have started preparations such as introducing new temperature-monitoring systems to track future vaccine shipments. United Parcel Service (UPS) and Lufthansa are building 'freezer farms'.

But cargo planes are fast filling with bookings for consumer electronics, apparel and industrial parts through the holiday season and new year, said airline executives. This year's peak season is expected to include a lift from the delayed iPhone 5G from Apple and Sony's PlayStation 5.

'We're planning for the mother of all peaks,' said Don Colleran, president of FedEx's express division.

Airlines said they would make room for essential supplies such as vaccines, just as they have for personal protective equipment throughout the pandemic.

Most of the potential vaccines have to be kept at a low constant temperature throughout the journey to prevent spoiling, according to cargo experts. These fall into two temperature ranges - around freezing and about minus 70 degrees Celsius - with very different transport and storage requirements.

Pharma executives said spoilage rates for other vaccines during transport range from five to as much as 20 per cent because of poor temperature control.

'This is going to be one of the biggest challenges for the transportation industry,' Michael Steen, chief commercial officer at Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, said. Atlas is one of the largest cargo airlines, flying freight on behalf of customers including Amazon and DHL.

Planning flu-season vaccine deliveries typically starts months ahead and includes analyzing which routes and airports carry the highest risk for delays and spoilage, said Larry St Onge, president of DHL's life sciences and health care unit.

DHL is applying that analysis to potential Covid-19 vaccines, which will have more-urgent delivery needs and far larger volume.

IATA estimates transporting a single dose to the global population would require the equivalent of 8,000 fully-laden Boeing 747 flights, based on dimensions for vials and packaging provided by pharma companies. A recent study by DHL and McKinsey & Co. pegged demand at 15,000 flights, while including syringes and protective equipment for medical staff would increase the cargo-space requirement.

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