Gediminas Ziemelis: 65,000 tons of airfreight shipped at minus 70 degrees Celsius. Is aviation industry ready to transport Covid-19 vaccines?

By December 3, 2020 News

As the first positive results of Covid-19 vaccines echoed through the media, a new challenge arose. Millions of vaccines will need to be quickly distributed globally. Is air cargo industry ready for that?

Accenture’s Seabury Consulting estimates the global rollout of a vaccine will generate 65,000 tons of airfreight, which is five times the air vaccine trade in 2019. Additionally, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 747-cargo aircraft. While the capacity might prove to be an issue, there is one even larger than that.

Currently 54 vaccines are in clinical trial on humans and 3 of them are showing promising results. Pfizer, Moderna and the University of Oxford vaccines showed to be up to 95% effective with the right dosage. While it is an incredibly exciting news, vaccine transportation might prove to be an overwhelming challenge. The vaccines have to be transported in controlled, low temperatures and quite a few companies can offer such transportation. A recent survey by an air cargo association and a drug shippers’ group found only around 15% of industry participants felt that they were ready to transport shipments near the minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94°F) required by the Pfizer vaccine, while around 60% could meet Moderna’s less stringent -20°C (-4°F) requirement. The University of Oxford vaccines would be the easiest to transport, as it can be stored in regular fridge temperatures of 2 to 8°C (35.6 to 46.4°F).

So what does that mean? Well, Covid-19 vaccine transportation will be a huge task, requiring careful advance planning and preparations. At this point, not only temperature requirements and lack of capacity pose problems, but also connectivity, security and infrastructure issues can interfere the distribution of crucial vaccines. Every part of the air cargo transportation industry has to begin preparing for the task – from investing in temperature-controlled options, to conducting test runs and preparing teams.

Vaccines are the key to the revival of the aviation industry. Moreover, the aviation industry itself has to make sure key is there to unlock it.