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Air cargo industry group The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is urging governments to begin planning now with industry stakeholders to create supply chains capable of distributing a future Covid-19 vaccine, warning of “potentially severe” capacity constraints in transporting vaccines by air.

Even in years without major pandemics, air cargo plays a key role in the annual distribution of vaccines through well-established global time- and temperature-sensitive distribution systems, IATA’s director general and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said in a release.

But that process will likely be far more complex for a potential coronavirus vaccine, which still has major unknown variables, such as the number of doses, temperature sensitivities, and manufacturing locations. To cope with those challenges, it is clear that the scale of activity will be vast, cold chain facilities will be required, and delivery to every corner of the planet will be needed, IATA said.

According to IATA’s calculations, providing a single vaccine dose to the world’s 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 747 cargo aircraft. Of course, developed economies with local manufacturing capacity will offset many of those flights through land transportion, but the estimate underlines the size of the challenge.

“Safely delivering Covid-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry. But it won’t happen without careful advance planning. And the time for that is now,” de Juniac said. “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.”

In addition, those challenges come at a time when the air cargo sector is mired at historically low capacity levels, due to coronavirus travel restrictions and travelers’ wariness of boarding airplanes. Those factors have led airlines to ground large numbers of passenger jets, which typically carry some 60% of global air freight volumes as “belly cargo.”

According to IATA, additional challenges will include boosting cargo security to guard valuable vaccine shipments from theft, and easing border restrictions to streamline regulatory approvals, security measures, appropriate handling, and customs clearance.

“Delivering billions of doses of vaccine to the entire world efficiently will involve hugely complex logistical and programmatic obstacles all the way along the supply chain,” Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, said in a release. “We look forward to working together with government, vaccine manufacturers, and logistical partners to ensure an efficient global roll-out of a safe and affordable Covid-19 vaccine.”

Air freight specialists bulk up pharma networks

Some logistics providers are already preparing for the looming challenge of global vaccine distribution. 

DHL Global Forwarding, Deutsche Post DHL Group’s air and ocean freight specialist, today announced a series of technology enhancements to its Life Sciences and Health Care logistics services. The Miami-based company rolled out: a new iteration of its Lane Risk Assessment software tool that incorporates data from sensors and internet of things (IoT) devices; a digitalized version of its Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for biopharmaceutical shipments; and a new interface for its DHL LifeTrack tracking portal for temperature controlled shipments.

“At DHL Global Forwarding we partner with our life sciences and healthcare customers to develop ground-breaking technologies to facilitate their logistical needs. Due to the unprecedented challenges unchained by the pandemic and its aftermath, it prompted us to expedite the rollout of these innovations, in order to more quickly support our customers to navigate this fluid environment,” Patricia Cole, global head of temperature management solutions at DHL Global Forwarding, said in a release.

 Also, the freight forwarding and logistics provider Kuehne + Nagel today announced recent investments to its global pharmaceutical and healthcare network, saying it has opened airside pharma & healthcare hubs in Brussels, Belgium, and Johannesburg, South Africa. Those facilities support direct tarmac access, which is critical for handling temperature-sensitive products with very low to no stability outside of their stated temperature ranges, the Swiss firm said.

“Today, new pharma & healthcare products tend to be more valuable, more temperature-sensitive, and have additional requirements for storage and transportation conditions,” Yngve Ruud, member of the management board of Kuehne+Nagel, responsible for Air Logistics, said in a release. “Such capabilities and facilities are not easily available globally.The new hubs in Brussels and Johannesburg will ensure that our pharma & healthcare customers can fully rely on Kuehne+Nagel to handle the specific challenges of integrity as well as provide end-to-end visibility and regulatory compliance along the logistics journey of their sensitive products.”



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