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Vaccine airlift will be huge challenge, IATA warns

[ September 9, 2020   //   ]

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is urging governments to begin careful planning to ensure full preparedness to move Covid vaccines, and warned of potentially severe capacity constraints.

Director general and chief executive, Alexandre de Juniac said that while there are still many unknowns, including the number of doses, temperature sensitivities or manufacturing locations, 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.

Priorities include temperature-controlled facilities and equipment – maximizing the use or re-purposing of existing infrastructure and minimizing temporary builds; availability of staff trained to handle time- and temperature-sensitive vaccines; and robust monitoring capabilities.

Arrangements must also be in place to keep ensure that shipments remain secure from tampering and theft.

It will also 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 prevention measures, many governments have put in place measures that increase processing times.

Priorities include fast-track procedures for overflight and landing permits for operations carrying the vaccine exempting flight crew members from quarantine requirements, temporary traffic rights and removing curfews.

Governments must also consider the current diminished cargo capacity. International health organisations have already reported severe difficulties in maintaining their planned vaccine programs during the Covid crisis due, in part, to limited air connectivity. 
UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said:  “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.”

Just providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 747 cargo aircraft.

De Juniac added: “Even if we assume that half the vaccines can be transported by land, the air cargo industry will still face its largest single transport challenge ever. In planning their vaccine programs, particularly in the developing world, governments must take very careful consideration of the limited air cargo capacity that is available at the moment. If borders remain closed, travel curtailed, fleets grounded and employees furloughed, the capacity to deliver life-saving vaccines will be very much compromised.”

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