Ready for a vaccine part 3 – a web series in association with Peli BioThermal

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Welcome to part 3 of Ready for a vaccine, an Aviation Business News web series that aims to find out whether the air cargo industry is really prepared for the handling, transportation and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

A special report on Covid-19 vaccine distribution appears in the Winter 2020 issue of Airline Cargo Management.

This web series, brought to you in association with Peli BioThermal, goes into even greater depth and appears each day this week on

This third instalment features Finnair Cargo head of global sales Fredrik Wildtgrube. [Click here to read part 1 and here to read part 2.]

Finnair Cargo

What is Finnair Cargo doing to prepare for distributing potential Covid-19 vaccines – what are the main tasks to achieve in order to ramp up operations for it? Does it require the introduction of additional services or infrastructure?

Fredrik Wildtgrube: Covid-19 vaccine distribution will most certainly be a supply chain challenge for the decades. We’re talking about a vaccine that is probably one of the most anticipated and wanted in the history of mankind, at least from such a large distribution point of view.

There are some key challenges. If we take a look at Finnair’s cargo position and capabilities, when we look at the network, infrastructure, process and systems, we have positioned ourselves extremely well. From an infrastructure point of view, we can look at our ultra-modern fleet as well as our facilities, especially in Finland and the Helsinki cool terminal.

The A350-900 is still very new for example, and one feature is the capability of cooling down some of the cargo compartments to meet with as consistent a transport temperature as is possible.

Finnair Cargo

Our network is very well positioned. Finland is on top of the world, geographically looking at it, serving the shortest route between Europe and Asia. This is critical because we are fighting against one resource, which is time. Time is of the essence when we look at these transports.

Finnair was the first airline in the world to get a CEIV pharmaceutical certificate provided by IATA. Processes embedded into this, which are audited, include the way we operate the airline, where we fly and how we integrate the terminal processes as we are connecting this particular cargo into the onward journey.

There are multiple pillars we can build this structure upon that have been available. Now it serves as a very good foundation and starting point into much deeper conversations we need to have with the various stakeholders when we plan for the distribution of this particular vaccine.

Another key element is the storage temperature – how will this challenge be overcome?

There have been splashes of information that have come into the public domain about the vaccines, and one thing is the ultra sub-zero temperature environment some vaccines need in order to get transported. This cannot be established in a natural environment, so it has to be containerised.

There are a variation of containers that come from various suppliers we are working with that can supply this particular container going forward. The shipper knows the exact condition of this particular vaccine they are transporting, in regards to time and ambient temperature, and in-box temperature. We have to work according to these requirements as we will be finding a suitable supplier.

This is one part of the operation – another is to look at our existing processes, whereby we have been transporting pharmaceuticals, and various other products throughout the time of Covid-19. We have been fully operational ever since Covid-19 hit. That is a critical starting point; people are employed and the processes are in place.

What can we expect the scale of Finnair Cargo’s vaccine distribution capabilities to be?

The supply of the containers is critical; without them we might not reach the ambient temperature that was required for the vaccine. This can vary depending on supplier. The one thing that becomes critical is beyond the airports and the onward journey infrastructure. It becomes a vaccination challenge – how are countries coping with the vaccinations and the large quantities of vaccines that would then be integrated into one country?

One thing has come to our notice is that as the container is opened, the vaccine has to be used within 24 hours and if you have a country where the population is scattered over a wide area, it might be a totally different logistical challenge coming up in the future. Maybe you are not transporting products but instead people into a certain location for the vaccination.

Finnair Cargo

Another dimension to consider is whether you are having one dose or two, in that it has to be given with a certain timelapse in between. So there are a number of questions. Our signal to the various stakeholders is that this is certainly a time where we do need to collaborate and find models that work. We usually talk about demand-driven supply chain and this is something we would like decision-makers to think about – starting a transport from origin with a large quantity of vaccinations if that particular destination doesn’t have the possibility and infrastructure to even execute. Then we are getting into sustainability and waste discussions which I am sure nobody wants to get into.

There could be a lot of demand in the early phases, so how you are positioning your supply over the world is going to be a key question. But also from a destination standpoint, how are you equipped to distribute the vaccine and also apply the vaccine into the population once it has been delivered? Providing that there is storage needed for the vaccine, will the countries it is delivered to have the capability and infrastructure?

Do you believe the air cargo industry as a whole has done enough to prepare? Has there been increased collaboration?

We are faced with a new challenge. Covid-19 changed the way we look at aviation. A lot of aircraft are on the ground. Capacity that was thought of as bread and butter for the industry is potentially not there.

How are the partners that are active and have these capabilities integrating their systems and visibility, and especially their information, so that we can achieve as full of a transparency as possible?

Finnair Cargo

If this information does not exist with the various stakeholders, as we are still talking about very fragmented transportation chains, the risk is that we will lose this very valuable resource of time. We are fighting against the clock – everybody is – not just from a demand perspective but from a durability perspective. By sharing this information we can take away some sandbags to do with time, that is essentially needed.

Strong collaboration between the various stakeholders and decision-makers is definitely required so that we can eliminate unnecessary risk and allow stakeholders to be part of the same result of vaccinating people of the world.

There will be many parties involved in the process. What are your biggest concerns?

Stakeholders are mostly known. It is the supply chain and logistical challenge of a lifetime. Unless this is thoroughly prepared, looking at the total supply chain end-to-end, there could be challenges that could lead to unwanted results of the distribution of the vaccine. Waste is not something that can be entertained and must be avoided at all costs. Usually when the larger pieces are well prepared the stakeholders in question have the possibility to influence other stakeholders collaboratively, on how to neutralise potential risks.

This video looks at the pharmaceutical cold chain and some of Peli BioThermal’s solutions to ensure there is no damage or wastage

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