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Industry underprepared to distribute COVID-19 vaccine: Survey

written by Hannah Dowling | October 15, 2020

A new survey has found that only 28 per cent of participants in the air cargo industry feel well prepared to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine once available.

The statistic is hugely concerning, due to the vital role the aviation industry will be required to play once a safe vaccine has been produced, as it will then need to be flown to all corners of the world.

The survey, conducted by The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) in conjunction with Pharma.Aero, found that ground handlers and airports currently feel less prepared for the logistical challenge of worldwide vaccine distribution than freight forwarders and airlines.

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It also reported that 36 per cent of survey participants intend to invest in additional physical or digital infrastructure to further assist in the challenge.

TIACA vice chairman Sanjeev Gadhia, who heads Nairobi-based air cargo operator Astral Aviation, said the global distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine would be the toughest logistical challenge ever faced by the industry, with an estimated 10 billion doses requiring distribution in 2021 and 2022.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 40 potential vaccines are already undergoing clinical trials around the globe.

“We know that as from November the first vaccines might be ready to be transported,” Gadhia said. 

“TIACA and Pharma.Aero call for more collaboration and transparency: information on vaccines specifications, volumes, production sites, trade lanes, is desperately needed by all.”

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Large cargo airlines like Korean Air Lines and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways have already been investing in expanding pharmaceutical handling capabilities, as they focus on alternative revenue sources while passenger demand remains subdued.

“Yield on vaccines are high compared to general cargo, hence airlines will have a financial benefit to transport vaccines and to invest in the supporting equipment,” said Gadhia, whose own airline is adding a freighter later this month.

Accenture’s Seabury Consulting estimates the global roll-out of a vaccine will generate 65,000 tonnes of air freight, which is five times larger than the air vaccine trade in 2019.

“I think what is going to likely happen is there will be public-private partnerships between governments, international freight forwarders and airlines,” said James Jordan, a senior associate at law firm HFW’s Asia aerospace and insurance practices.

“But the scale of the operation is such that they will need to utilise the aircraft from not just your primary airlines but the second and third-tier airlines as well.”

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