Shipping a coronavirus vaccine around the world will be the airline industry’s biggest ever challenge, requiring the equivalent of 8,000 jumbo jet planes to get a single dose to 7.8 billion people, according to the aviation industry.
The International Air Transport Association warned of severe capacity constraints that could hamper efforts to get a vaccine out quickly around the globe. While drugmakers are racing to develop a vaccine and get it approved by regulators, the international aviation group is working with airlines, airports, health bodies and pharmaceutical firms to draft an airlift plan.
IATA’s director general, Alexandre de Juniac, said: “Safely delivering Covid-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry. But it won’t happen without careful advance planning. And the time for that is now. We urge governments to take the lead in facilitating cooperation across the logistics chain so that the facilities, security arrangements and border processes are ready for the mammoth and complex task ahead.”
Although just providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 Boeing 747 cargo aircraft, IATA said, any vaccine may require several doses. Vaccines also have to be stored at a certain temperature, which means not all planes are suitable.
Vaccines can be shipped by land, especially in developed economies with local manufacturing capacity, but will have to be flown to other countries.
IATA warned that, with the severe downturn in passenger traffic, airlines had scaled back their fleets and put many aircraft into long-term storage.
On Wednesday, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford said they had halted trials of their Covid-19 vaccine to investigate the “potentially unexpected illness” of one volunteer. GSK and France’s Sanofi are also working on a coronavirus vaccine, and other vaccines are in development around the world, in China, Russia and the US. Around two dozen are being tested on humans.
“Even if we assume that half the needed vaccines can be transported by land, the air cargo industry will still face its largest single transport challenge ever. In planning their vaccine programmes, particularly in the developing world, governments must take very careful consideration of the limited air cargo capacity that is available at the moment,” said De Juniac.
“If borders remain closed, travel curtailed, fleets grounded and employees furloughed, the capacity to deliver life-saving vaccines will be very much compromised.”