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Hundreds of pharmaceutical companies are striding to build vaccine to rid the world of Covid-19, and as many have leaped into fairly good trials, greater attention is seemingly being shifted to the movement of the vaccine.

The behemoth task of delivering the vaccine to the world’s population of approximately 7.8 billion people demands all the stakeholders in the supply chain to come together and manoeuvre the vaccine to the population without compromising its integrity.

Air cargo stands at the centre of Covid-19 vaccine logistics operation. In delivering a vaccine, which is a temperature sensitive product and considering the urgent and widespread need to stop the spread of Covid-19, it is essential that it gets to people as soon as it is out with its potency intact.

Evaluating the reach of some of the most successful vaccination programmes, Para Deshmukh, additional director, global strategic business development, Serum Institute of India, shared statistics during a webinar conducted by the STAT Media Group on the topic of ‘Covid-19 response: building resilient supply chains for vaccines delivery’: “Even in the best of scenarios, when we had things going normally, we had diseases such as polio and measles reaching targets, even through UN agencies and country networks, not up to 85-90 percent, or even 70 percent in some vaccine cases,” he added “Now, when we get to Covid-19, we cannot leave even 10 percent or 15 percent of our population without the vaccine, because that 10-15 percent is going to create a rollover effect with the Covid-19, especially when there's a mutation happening with the virus.”

Temperature-controlled containers and freighters
May companies making temperature-controlled containers for air cargo like Envirotainer SkyCell, va-Q-tec, DoKasch etc. are gearing up for this mission. From production and preconditioning to final delivery. Informing on the speculative preconditioning needed for the vaccine, Deshmukh explained that “Normally the vaccine industry works on WHO type one, type two and type three classification of a cold tray management and we would like to be indicating that there is a big range — you can go up to 35 degrees and down to 2 degrees and not frozen. So, (the vaccine) would be in that range, but the storage for a longer duration would be 2 to 8 degrees.”

Minding the temperature bracket of 2 to 8 degrees needed in case of storing the vaccine for a longer period brings the air cargo at the front, heading this logistics operation. This also brings to mind the dent in air cargo capacity caused due to the lost belly capacity from the grounded passenger aircraft, which further narrows down the onus onto freighter aircraft.

Giving an idea on what the vaccine carrying capacity of the Boeing 777F looks like, Julian Sutch, head of global sales - pharma, Emirates SkyCargo, shared his past experience and explained “I did a movement last year. And you can fit exactly a million vaccines in one triple seven freighter.” Around a thousand B 777Fs would be needed to deliver 1 billion doses of a vaccine.

While significant information on the development of the vaccine is still under shadow, freighter operations are exceptionally on the rise. The significant demand of personal protective equipment (PPE), perishables, and pharmaceutical products is being serviced by almost all freighters available and when the vaccine is out, the event will call for a massive mobilisation of these already busy aircraft. Sutch shared a similar dilemma and how Emirates has been handling the capacity issue by mixing passenger aircraft and freighters. He explained “Covid-19 vaccine is a very important vaccine. There's also a lot of other pharmaceuticals that are being moved around the world all kinds of treatments every day, and that could not stop and we had to try and keep that flowing. So within the space of a few days, we started uplifting our triple sevens, passenger planes, and deployed them all over the world for different markets.”

Cold chain management of the vaccine may see yet another phase of innovation from the air cargo community, which has moved cargo to passenger seats followed by moving cargo to cabin deck by clearing the passenger seats. This large scale, never done before logistics operation will also invite cargo drones, which has proved instrumental in making last mile deliveries.

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