Providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 747 cargo aircraft
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged governments to begin careful planning with industry stakeholders to ensure full preparedness when vaccines for COVID-19 are approved and available for distribution.
The association also warned of potentially severe capacity constraints in transporting vaccines by air.
Air cargo plays a key role in the distribution of vaccines in normal times through well-established global time- and temperature-sensitive distribution systems.
This capability will be crucial to the quick and efficient transport and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines when they are available, and it will not happen without careful planning, led by governments and supported by industry stakeholders.
IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac said: “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.
"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.”
Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance said: “Delivering billions of doses of vaccine to the entire world efficiently will involve hugely complex logistical and programmatic obstacles all the way along the supply chain.
"We look forward to working together with government, vaccine manufacturers and logistical partners to ensure an efficient global roll-out of a safe and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.”
Facilities: Vaccines must be handled and transported in line with international regulatory requirements, at controlled temperatures and it is clear that the scale of activity will be vast, that cold chain facilities will be required and that delivery to every corner of the planet will be needed.
Availability of temperature-controlled facilities and equipment, availability of trained staff and robust monitoring capabilities will key to successful distribution of the vaccine.
Security: Vaccines will be highly valuable commodities. Arrangements must be in place to keep ensure that shipments remain secure from tampering and theft.
Border Processes: Working effectively with health and customs authorities will, therefore, be essential to ensure timely regulatory approvals, adequate security measures, appropriate handling and customs clearance.
This could be a particular challenge given that, as part of COVID-19 prevention measures, many governments have put in place measures.
Landing permits, quarantine requirements, supporting temporary traffic rights, removing operating hour curfews for flights carrying the vaccine, priority on arrival and tariff relief will be central to facilitating the movement of the vaccine
Capacity: On top of the transport preparations and coordination needed, governments must also consider the current diminished cargo capacity of the global air transport industry.
IATA warned that, with the severe downturn in passenger traffic, airlines have downsized networks and put many aircraft into remote long-term storage.
The global route network has been reduced dramatically from the pre-COVID 24,000 city pairs. The WHO, UNICEF and Gavi have already reported severe difficulties in maintaining their planned vaccine programs during the COVID-19 crisis due, in part, to limited air connectivity.
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director said: “The whole world is eagerly awaiting a safe COVID vaccine. It is incumbent on all of us to make sure that all countries have safe, fast and equitable access to the initial doses when they are available.
"As the lead agency for the procurement and supply of the COVID vaccine on behalf of the COVAX Facility, UNICEF will be leading what could possibly be the world’s largest and fastest operation ever. The role of airlines and international transport companies will be critical to this endeavour,”
The potential size of the delivery is enormous. Just providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 747 cargo aircraft.