Air cargo takes to the world stage and will give vaccine distribution its best shot

Air cargo takes to the world stage and will give vaccine distribution its best shot

The Load Star reports that air freight will give vaccine distribution its best shot. The year 2020 for air freight industry was by no means the same as other years. In response to the pandemic, the industry has acted masterfully to deliver life-saving goods. But what will happen in the future is the biggest challenge for air freight in its modern history. It is the COVID-19 vaccine delivery worldwide that we have been waiting for it for a long time. After the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed tremendous effectiveness, now all eyes are on the logistics sector. They must assess the readiness for distribution.

Complex logistical problem

IATA reported that providing a single dose to 7.8 bn people would fill 8,000 747 freighter aircraft. But the actual figure depends on many assumptions that have not yet been determined. Another important aspect is how much distribution do they make by surface transport. For example, Pfizer reported that its US manufacturing locations will be used for demand within the Americas. Also its site in Belgium will distribute vaccines within Europe and to the rest of the world. Indeed, the distribution model is one of the many uncertainties that cloud air cargo’s ability to prepare for this event. This not only applies to the origin point, but also to the complete end to end network.

For example, we can deliver vaccines directly from the place of production to the place of use. For this purpose, UPS and Lufthansa are building “freezer farms” in their European centers. They use them to store vaccines in transit.

We also expected that distribution networks may vary between the first and subsequent distribution waves. They may also use several shipping methods, depending on demand and time sensitivity. Naturally temperature control is one of the main aspects of the vaccine transport problem.

We should store the doses of the Pfizer at a temperature of -70°C, which makes it difficult to carry. In fact, most air freight chains are equipped with temperature controls +2-8°C. Also, a few can even store goods at temperatures as low as -20°C.

The wisdom of experience

This is definitely a challenge for which there is no precedent. But we can learn from past experiences. So far, we have used air freight to carry vaccines extensively. With the growth of medicines, cold chain infrastructure has also grown around the world. Also, apparently we can keep other vaccine candidates, such as Moderna, at a more normal freezing temperature, like -20°C. As a result, they have a longer shelf life in the refrigerator.

In such cases, we can deliver the vaccines through a central distribution point. And this makes the logistics chain more practical. Historically, around 20% of vaccines are spoiled due to temperature excursions or mishandling issues. This risk can only be compounded when handling high spikes of demand within short time frames. Naturally, the margin of error in the case of vaccines will be much narrower. Because cold storage capacity is smaller. And the handling protocols much stricter. To that effect, cold chains need to plan for streamlined distribution and at greater precision than usual. Data exchange plays a crucial role in these operations.

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