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Coronavirus Vaccine Hopes Ahead, This is How Airlines Plan to Ship Millions of Doses Across Globe

With all key candidates in their final stage of clinical trials, the COVID vaccine shot is expected to be available early next year. But the big question is, how will the vaccine shots be delivered to the respective countries?

Published: November 30, 2020 5:39 PM IST

By Business Desk | Edited by Sharmita Kar

Flights from Gulf Countries have started operation to Vijayawada airport.
International flights will not be operated between UAE and India till further notice.

New Delhi: As hopes for the coronavirus vaccine rise with the year coming to an end, airlines around the globe are preparing for all that is needed for the distribution and shipping for the vaccines, including the necessary temperature control for vaccines like that of Pfizer-BioNTech which must be stored and transported at minus 70 degrees Celsius. With all key candidates in their final stage of clinical trials, the COVID vaccine shot is expected to be available early next year.

However, the difficulties do not end there. There is still the big question of how the vaccine shots, once developed, will be delivered to the respective countries.

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Notably, Deutsche Lufthansa AG has begun preparing its depleted fleet in the cooled warehouses of Frankfurt airport to get on with the gargantuan task of airlifting the millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses that intend to end the global pandemic.

Notably, a 20-member task force is working day and night to devise how to fit the crucial payload onto the airline’s 15 Boeing Co. 777 and MD-11 freighters.

“This will be the largest and most complex logistical exercise ever,” said Alexandre de Juniac, chief executive officer of the International Air Transport Association, as quoted by Bloomberg.

Frankfurt airport is one of the busiest airports in the world and is expected to play a major role in transporting the coronavirus vaccine, specifically for Pfizer-BioNTech, as opposed to Oxford-AstraZeneca, Russia’s Sputnik and other vaccine candidates that can be shipped in normal refrigerators.

The most important area needed in this process is the ‘Cargo Cool Center’ which is a vast temperature-controlled hangar and can handle about 120,000 tons of vaccines, along with other pharmaceutical products, officials noted.

The airport’s designated space is said to have 12,000 square metres (129,000 square feet) of temperature-controlled warehouses and about 8,000 square metres (86,000 square feet), around the size of a football field, that handles Lufthansa cargo alone.

At the same time, an American Airlines also announced this week that its cargo operation has started conducting trial flights fit for temperature-critical shipments, from Miami to South America to test out its process of shipping once the COVID-19 vaccine is released to the world.

The American Airlines told ABC News in a statement that it has already established a “network of team members that specialize in temperature-critical shipments” and was working with the Federal Aviation Administration on “regulations governing shipments transported with dry ice.”

Notably, Moderna’s vaccine candidate is also expected to be among the first to be distributed after it showed up to 94 per cent efficacy in the initial phase 3 clinical trials.

Meanwhile, in India, Bharat Biotech’s indigenous ‘Covaxin’ is being developed in Hyderabad. Racing against it are Serum Institute in Pune, which has partnered with Oxford-AstraZeneca to develop ‘Covishield’, and Zydus Cadila in Ahmedabad, developing its vaccine candidate ZyCoV-D.

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