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Governments Should Prepare to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines: IATA

By Alicia Arizpe | Tue, 09/15/2020 - 18:20

As researchers rush to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the International Air Transport Associations (IATA) argues that a strong logistic network must be developed now to guarantee the safe, reliable and timely delivery of the vaccine, as fast as possible.

The rapid spread of COVID-19, which has now infected over 29 million people, led to unprecedented research efforts to prevent, control and treat the disease. Public and private health institutions across the globe have developed hundreds of potential candidates for a vaccine, while a select few have now entered clinical trials. As the race to develop vaccine advances, some questions have arisen on the world’s capabilities to produce and distribute it. Considering the role of air cargo in the transportation of other vaccines and other critical medical supplies, IATA urged governments to begin coordinating distribution plans as soon possible. “Safely delivering COVID-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry. But it will not happen without careful advance planning,” said Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO of IATA.

While there are already reliable procedures for the transportation of other vaccines, the transportation of a vaccine for COVID-19 will pose additional challenges as distributing a single-dose vaccine to 7.8 billion people would require the use of 8,000 Boeing 747s. Moreover, existing cargo operations have been disrupted by the outbreak. About half of the world’s cargo travels in the bellies of passenger aircraft, so the numerous fleet groundings across the globe have meant a reduction in capacity. IATA reports that available cargo ton-kilometers (ACTK), a measure of carrying capacity calculated by multiplying the tons of freight by the distance travelled, fell by 31.2 percent year-on-year in July 2020.

To address the smaller demand, some airlines switched passenger aircraft into cargo airplanes. However, IATA calls for comprehensive measures that guarantee the safe and timely transportation of the vaccines. “Delivering billions of doses to the entire world efficiently will involve hugely complex logistical and programmatic obstacles all the way along the supply chain,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, an international organization that aims to increase access to immunization. The measures proposed by IATA include ensuring the availability of temperature-controlled facilities and equipment, making arrangements that increase security and streamlining border processes, which requires close coordination with local governments.

Alicia Arizpe Alicia Arizpe Senior Writer