Global distribution of COVID vaccines would take 8k jumbo jets, says IATA

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Once the COVID vaccines are developed and ready for a jab, it would need 8000 Boeing 747 jumbo jets to distribute the potentially enormous volume to all the 7.8 billion people, IATA says governments ahead of the daunting task.

Shipping the approved vaccine for the novel coronavirus could be the world’s ‘largest and fastest operation ever’ as it would not only require the enormous air cargo infrastructure but also other fulfillment measures to maintain the integrity of the vaccines.

UNICEF, in association with WHO and other global bodies, are facilitating what is being called the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccine pool under COVAX.

Hundreds of wealthy and influential nations, including Japan, Germany, and France are a part of the massive operation that seeks to centrally distribute the effective COVID-19 vaccine bypassing the ‘vaccine hoarding’ of powerful nations.

IATA highlights, UNICEF’s role in procuring those billions of doses of vaccines from COVAX ‘could possibly be the world’s largest and fastest operation ever.’

Overseeing a potential severe capacity constrains of airlines across the world to ferry approved vaccines, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says it is already working with governments to outline the preparedness before the jabs are ready for distributions.

“Safely delivering COVID-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry,” said IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac.

“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.”

The airline’s body has already started working with governments, airport authorities, global health bodies, and drug makers for the colossal global airlift plan.

Largest single transport challenge ever

While land transportation systems will play a crucial role in delivering vaccines from warehouses to distribution centers in developed economies with local manufacturing capacities, air cargo will be crucial.

Delivering vaccines to certain parts of SouthEast Asia will be critical since many countries lack local manufacturing capabilities, the BBC noted.

Distributing vaccines is not equivalent to distributing other medications or other cargoes for that sake.

Vaccines must be handled in-line with different government regulations, should be delivered on-time in a temperature-controlled environment over long distances among others.

It must be noted, at this time when over 100 potential vaccines are currently under development, and there are a number of unknowns, including the number of doses, temperature sensitivities, manufacturing locations, etc.

Hence, it remains unclear about the exact specifications for efficient infrastructure that will arise once the vaccines are ready.

But it is clear ‘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,’ IATA says.

“Even if we assume that half the needed vaccines can be transported by land, the air cargo industry will still face its largest single transport challenge ever,” de Juniac said.

“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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