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Shot in the arm for vaccine supplies

Posted 19 July 2021 · Add Comment

Arab airlines are among those helping carry Covid-19 vaccines all over the globe as part of a United Nations initiative. Alan Dron reports.

Mercy missions: Qatar Airways will be one of the airlines using both its dedicated freighters and the underfloor holds on passenger aircraft to help move vital vaccines around the world. Picture: Qatar Airways

Middle East carriers are prominent in a list of the world’s major airlines that have agreed to get vital supplies to where they are most needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Under a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) initiative, 12 airlines have signed agreements to prioritise the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines and related medical supplies. While North America, Europe, and parts of Asia have forged ahead with inoculating their residents, many poorer countries, notably in Africa, have not been able to vaccinate such large percentages of their populations.

Emirates SkyCargo, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Saudia have joined the initiative, together with two African airlines – Astral Aviation and Ethiopian Airlines – and some of the world’s leading passenger and cargo operators, to support UNICEF’s COVAX facility.

This ensures participating countries have fair access to vaccines, regardless of their income level.

COVAX aims to have two billion doses of vaccine available by the end of 2021.

Transporting vaccines requires, not only careful handling, but also specialised storage and in-flight conditions. Airlines have to ensure measures such as temperature control and security for the sensitive and valuable consignments.

The COVAX initiative also means that the participating airlines will add freighting capacity to routes where necessary.

In a wider context, COVAX will also act as a global logistics preparedness mechanism for other humanitarian and health crises in the longer term.

“Every single day counts in the fight against Covid-19 and the sooner that communities can have access to vaccines, the sooner they can curb the spread of the virus and get back on their feet,” said Emirates divisional senior vice-president, cargo, Nabil Sultan.

Last October, Emirates SkyCargo announced that it was creating the world’s largest certified airside distribution hub dedicated to the storage of vaccines for the pandemic, with more than 15,000sqm of storage space. It will then regularly fly smaller quantities into markets with limited ‘cold chain’ infrastructure. Refrigeration right through the distribution channel until the vaccine is given to a patient is necessary to ensure that the medication remains in optimum condition.

The sheer size of the effort to vaccinate the population poses particular challenges.

“Vaccine is not a new product for our industry. The quantity and scale, however, is new and immense,” noted Qatar Airways’ chief officer, cargo, Guillaume Halleux.

“From our side, we have invested much time and efforts to create a proper plan around the logistics of vaccines. UNICEF’s shipments are being transported via its appointed freight forwarders like Kuehne & Nagel, Scan Global Logistics, DHL and Agility – to name a few.

“We move these vaccines on our regular scheduled freighters, passenger freighters, mini-freighters and belly-hold flights. Charter services is also offered to destinations not part of our scheduled services or to destinations where we require more capacity to transport the vaccines.

“We recently surpassed a milestone with 10 million Covid-19 vaccines transported to more than 20 countries. This includes vaccines for UNICEF as part of the five-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) to support its humanitarian airfreight initiative.”

Qatar Airways anticipates handling more shipments in the coming months, as UNICEF sets up new arrangements with countries and the logistics at the various destinations are created.

“With our global reach and mix of different aircraft, we are able to support the transport of vaccines by offering a seamless cool chain and dedicated monitoring, intervention and servicing, as well as proactive re-icing at our Doha hub when required,” said Halleux.

• The other airlines involved in the UNICEF initiative are AirBridgeCargo, Air France/KLM, Brussels Airlines, Cargolux, Cathay Pacific, IAG Cargo, Korean Air, Lufthansa Cargo, Singapore Airlines and United Airlines.



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