After a difficult year caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the world welcomed the first distribution of vaccines during the final quarter of 2020. However, to safely transport vaccines needing a range of temperature and handling requirements, airlines, freight forwarders and other air cargo operators began preparing months ago to meet needs that were still unknown. In this list, we at Air Cargo World rank the top five stories on preparation for and eventual airfreight distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
After the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech was the first to receive authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, express operators began moving the vaccine to states that same weekend. Since then, lawmakers and healthcare workers have been among the first in the country to receive the first of two doses required.
The major Middle Eastern airlines have transported pharma products for years, but with the Pfizer vaccine demanding ultra-cold temperatures, airlines including Emirates and Qatar Airways looked to further grow or refurbish their ground infrastructure. Improvements included adding cool dollies for key destinations and leasing temperature-controlled containers in preparation for additional vaccine shipments.
As a major European hub, Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) expected to be a distribution point for vaccines and began preparing accordingly. In this podcast, Air Cargo Netherlands’ managing director Maarten van As discussed how regulatory agencies and customs worked with airport stakeholders to prepare for various vaccine distribution scenarios.
Preparation among logistics companies for eventual vaccine distribution began in earnest during the third quarter. Air Cargo World columnist Cathy Roberson provided an overview of how various links in the logistics chain worked to bolster their cold chain operations to safely transport vaccines when the time would eventually come months later.
Pharma expansions begun years ago for forwarder Kuehne + Nagel came to fruition in time to aid in distributing vaccines. Improvements included a new 15,000-square-meter facility at Brussels Airport (BRU) and an expanded facility at Johannesburg (JNB), where Kuehne + Nagel also added pharma dollies to be used for keeping pallets cool while they await loading onto an aircraft. As a major African hub airport, JNB is likely to play an important role in vaccine distribution on the continent.