Covid vaccine: is air cargo ready for 'the biggest product launch in history?
As the air cargo industry prepares for a Covid-19 vaccine, some experts are warning of logistical challenges for worldwide distribution.
This week the International Air Cargo Association (Tiaca) and Pharma.Aero formed a working group to develop global guidance and enable optimal transport of a vaccine.
“As pharmaceutical companies race to develop the Covid-19 vaccine, it is still unclear what impact this will have on the global supply chain, specifically, logistics requirements and the air cargo industry,” the group noted.
The two associations are bringing together pharmaceutical manufacturers and logistics players to provide the industry with “more clarity” of the demands and expectations of vaccine supply chains, including requirements for quality control, critical tradelanes, air cargo capacity, handling and storage and track and trace.
Neel Jones Shah, TIACA board member and global head of airfreight at Flexport, said: “Covid-19 vaccine delivery will be one of the biggest logistical challenges in modern history. No one company can own the end-to-end vaccine supply chain and we need to start working together to ensure the industry is prepared.”
As Russia announced yesterday it had approved a vaccine – a boon, perhaps, for Moscow-based freighter airline AirBridgeCargo, which has been busy preparing for a potential vaccine by renting extra ULDs – some commentators are concerned about industry preparedness.
Pete Mento, managing director global customs and duties at Crowe LLP, said: “It will likely cause incredible disruptions to every phase of global transport infrastructure as it strains capacity. This is going to make an iPhone release during a holiday rush seem like a tea party,” he said on LinkedIn.
Frederic Gomer, partner at B2G Consulting in Singapore, told The Loadstar a single Boeing 777 freighter, or Airbus A340/A350, could carry a million vaccine doses, and added: “So it will require around 12,000 freighters to supply three-quarters of the global population, taking into account the need for vaccine boosters. And with refrigeration constraints, this capacity becomes very challenging without a global coordinated strategy.
“Most 3PLs have moved substantial volumes of PPE recently by air cargo, but vaccines are another level altogether.”
He added that a large number of shippers were “still behind”, with outdated technology, especially when moving fragile products in huge quantities.
“Product launches are always a headache, so let’s imagine for a second what the pharma industry will have to endure with the biggest ‘launch’ in history,” he said.