Air Freight Covid Vaccines

Even with more than 780 million shots already administered, the air cargo industry is yet to see the huge volumes of Covid-19 vaccines. While challenges still persist in terms of operations, capacity and sensitivity, experts report that the industry is better prepared and the awareness campaigns were successful.

As we pass the one year mark of the Covid-19 worldwide lockdown, vaccinating the majority of the world’s population is the only realistic solution to help societies return to some form of normalcy. But the challenge has been, getting the vaccines to populations all across the world. The air freight component of shipping vaccines however is not a majorissue.

Rob Walpole, vice president, Delta Cargo, said, “It is important to note that this is not new, Delta and many airlines have extensive experience shipping vaccines. Certainly, the logistical challenge of the sheer scale/volume of the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine around the globe as well as the stakeholder complexity requires our teams to be nimble and flexible.This is also made more challenging as the different vaccines have different requirements for transportation with Pfizer vaccines being outside of normal temp range with their own packaging.”

The air freight industry has made one point abundantly clear throughout this health crisis; do whatever is necessary to end the pandemic. 

According to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, more than 781 million doses have been administered—enough to vaccinate 5.1% of the global population, as of April 11, 2021. The problem is, the air cargo industry has yet to see a major increase in the scaling of how many vaccines are being shipped via commercial airlines. 

But the question remains, why is it that the global air cargo industry has yet to see a significant increase in the total number of vaccines transported? Some important facts to consider.

  1. The world needs to vaccinate at least 70% of its 7.8 billion population.
  2. Major airlines have remained committed to moving at least 2 billion doses in 2021 alone.
  3. Distribution is still highly concentrated on regional routes - temperature controlled containers can only be shipped via widebody planes and then the vaccines must be refrigerated and repacked for transportation to smaller markets.
  4. More and more vaccines are being developed and approved with 12 currently available for the global population.
  5. Vaccine manufacturers are continuing to ramp up their capacity efforts.

Andrea Gruber, head of special cargo at IATA stated, “The industry has not yet reached the large scale of volumes and global distribution we expected. This is due to only a limited number of vaccines being approved for full use and manufacturers experiencing some delays in production. Manufacturers are starting to scale-up their capacity as countries around the globe and international organizations have been ordering and pre-purchasing different types of vaccines, which will be transported following approval for use.”

Another major problem airlines face is that passenger air travel is down, thus there are less flights available because of the lack of demand. Airlines have started becoming more creative in their attempts to move freight via their passenger flights without passengers on the plane.

Regardless of the logistical hurdles that airlines face now and in the future with transporting vaccines, it is abundantly clear that they are actively working behind the scenes to figure out solutions to help supply the world with as many vaccines as possible in the most time efficient way possible.