How much air cargo is required for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution?

vaccine distribution

The mammoth task of COVID-19 vaccine distribution to more than seven billion people across the globe could call for a global airlift of 8,000 Boeing 747 freighters, as per estimates by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

With the assumption that inoculation would require a single dose, it is deemed that the demand for jets could be higher if multiple doses are needed, said Glyn Hughes, IATA’s Head of cargo.

“Airlift is the correct terminology here,” Hughes said. “We know the procedures well. What we need to do is scale them up to the magnitude that will be required,” he added at a media briefing.

Mr Hughes added that if some vaccines require temperatures of 2-to-8 degrees Celsius, then some aircraft may not be suitable. Shipments that need freezing would lead to exclusion of more planes, he said.

The pandemic has created a rush to create vaccines, with scientists running the race against time with more than 30 candidates going through human clinical trials.

Covid-19 vaccines will take at least till the end of 2021 to become available to common people in India owing to logistical challenges and other factors, despite a vaccine likely getting regulatory approval by this year, as per opinions put forward by experts involved in vaccine development.

Priority vaccination, logistical challenges to delivery and limited efficacy may attribute to delaying the roll out dates for distribution thus impacting mass use of Covid-19 vaccine.

Global vaccine development has picked up a faster pace in countries such as the US, where Moderna, AstraZeneca and Pfizer are rushing ahead with their vaccine development, with Pfizer expected to present its trial data by the end of October.

IATA has been relentlessly working with airlines, airports, global health bodies and pharmaceutical firms to prepare a distribution plan for COVID-19 vaccines, primed as the industry’s “largest single transport challenge ever.”

A recent report by logistics firm DHL and consulting company McKinsey pointed out that in the next two years, to ensure global coverage, there would be a need of 200,000 movements by pallet shippers on 15,000 flights. In downstream distribution, ensuring stringent temperature requirements will be even more challenging, it said.

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