Travel curbs huge bottlenecks for Covid-19 vaccine rollout

After nearly a year of depressing developments on all fronts, green shoots of recovery in terms of vaccine success are in sight despite the raging virus still wreaking havoc on the financial world.
American company Moderna said on Monday its experimental Covid-19 vaccine had proved 94.5% effective in a clinical trial, a week after another drugmaker Pfizer reported 90% efficacy findings for its vaccine being developed in association with Germany’s biotechnology firm, BioNTech.
Once approved, both vaccines are likely to require transport and storage well below freezing, posing logistical hurdles.
Air cargo operators may struggle to distribute the new Covid-19 vaccines, and other vaccines expected over the next few months, global airlines have cautioned.
The warning came in vaccine transport guidelines issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which is pushing governments to replace travel curbs and quarantines with testing.
There are currently more than 100 Covid-19 vaccine candidates under development, with a number of these in the human trial phase, according to the World Health Organisation.
As WHO and partners work together on the response – tracking the pandemic, advising on critical interventions, distributing vital medical supplies to those in need – they are racing to find a vaccine.
The expected vaccine roll-out in the next few weeks, however, poses new challenges for the aviation industry.
The US-German drug giants could apply for authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as early as this month.
But reaching the vaccine to billions of people around the world is a gigantic task.
“If borders remain closed, travel curtailed, fleets grounded and employees furloughed, the capacity to deliver life-saving vaccines will be very much compromised,” IATA said.
Widespread grounding of passenger flights that normally carry 45% of global cargo in their holds has taken out capacity, thinning the air freight network and driving up prices.
Existing immunisation campaigns have struggled with the partial shutdown. The World Health Organisation and Unicef “have already reported severe difficulties in maintaining their planned vaccine programmes during the Covid-19 crisis due, in part, to limited air connectivity,” IATA said. Vaccines will need to be shipped to developing countries reliant on passenger services for cargo, IATA’s head of cargo Glyn Hughes told Reuters. Even in industrialised states, vaccine dispersal may be a tighter bottleneck than production, requiring shipments to secondary airports on passenger jets.
In preparation for the challenge of mass vaccine distribution, governments should move to reopen key passenger routes backed by robust testing, the airline body argues.
“There are several more months for governments to go through the planning cycle,” Hughes said, leaving enough time to “get passenger networks safely resumed, looking at safe travel corridors (and) mutual acceptance of testing procedures.”
Undoubtedly, the beleaguered travel industry immediately got a boost following the rosy vaccine update, with airline and cruise company share prices rallying, and tour operators seeing upticks in searches and bookings for 2021. Finally, it feels as if vacations might be in our future. The promising news on vaccines development has already triggered a wave of optimism around the wider airline and tourism industry, which has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in huge revenue and job losses around the world.
Air transport is a vital feature of our modern, globalised world, connecting people and businesses across oceans and continents.
The aviation industry supports 65.5mn jobs around the world and supports $2.7tn (3.6%) of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). Nearly 4.5bn passengers flew the world’s airlines in 2019.
The potential size of the delivery is enormous, IATA points out. Just providing a single dose to 7.8bn people would fill 8,000 747 (jumbo) cargo aircraft!
Land transport will help, especially in developed economies with local manufacturing capacity. But vaccines cannot be delivered globally without the significant use of air cargo.
Air cargo, therefore, plays a key role in the distribution of vaccines in normal times through well-established global time – and temperature-sensitive distribution systems. This capability will be crucial to the quick and efficient transport and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines when they are available, and it will not happen without careful planning, led by governments and supported by industry stakeholders.
Having a safe, viable vaccine is only one step in the global fight against the ferocious virus. Public health officials around the world are gearing up for the biggest vaccination effort in history – a monumental undertaking that must distribute billions of doses, prioritise who’s first in line and ensure that people who get the initial shot return for the necessary second one.
Understanding the extent of those challenges is essential to addressing them and being realistic about how the coming months will unfold.
Admitted, we are not going to have an immediate end to the pandemic. But if all goes well, we can make great strides toward lessening the danger posed by the virus by mid to late 2021.

 

Source: Civil Aviation Authority-Qatar