Ready for a vaccine part 5 – a web series in association with Peli BioThermal

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Welcome to part 5 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. You can read the digital version of the magazine here.

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

This fifth and final instalment features Delta Cargo vice president Rob Walpole and DoKaSch CEO Andreas Seitz. [The other instalments are available to read: part one features Pharma.Aero and IAG Cargo, part two features Peli BioThermal, part three features Finnair Cargo and part four features Etihad Cargo.]

Delta Cargo
Source: Delta Cargo

Delta Cargo

What is Delta 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?

Rob Walpole: We have been preparing for the task of shipping Covid-19 vaccines since earlier in the Summer. We have been working with the industry and government stakeholders to understand the requirements to ship Covid-19 vaccines and how Delta’s pharmaceutical capabilities and network align with that. We have a vaccine task force that is looking into all aspects of Covid-19 vaccine shipments and working with healthcare companies and freight forwarders to discuss Delta’s capabilities and the network. We are focused on ensuring that our cargo capabilities are closely aligned with the specific need of transporting the various vaccines and treatments that are being developed.

How will Delta ensure that the temperature of vaccines is maintained?

The safe, secure, reliable and efficient transportation of pharma products for the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry is a key priority for Delta. We offer temperature controlled products for the pharma industry, specialising in supporting specific temperature ranges or set points.

Delta Cargo was the first US passenger carrier to receive IATA’s Center of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) pharma logistics certification. This award means that we are compliant, in our Atlanta warehouse and at over 49 pharma approved airports across the globe, provided through our handling partners, with the highest industry standards for the shipment of pharmaceuticals, vaccines and life sciences.

Delta Cargo
Source: Delta Cargo

We have extensive experience with transporting pharmaceuticals, including vaccines. A key part of this programme is continuous improvement of the product to keep up with the needs of our customers. We continue to invest in our facilities (CEIV certified Atlanta station and headquarters), equipment, operations and staff to ensure that we comply with all applicable standards, regulations and guidelines expected from pharmaceutical manufacturers.

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

There is a good fit between Delta’s network and the global vaccine production centres. Delta Cargo has a network of 49 certified pharma stations globally including operations that have been validated against pharma industry standards, providing temperature-controlled transfer capability. These include Brussels, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris Charles de Gaulle, London Heathrow, Tel Aviv, Milan, Rome and Shanghai. Our hub in Atlanta is CEIV certified, as is our headquarters and we have cooler facilities in New York JFK, Seattle, Detroit and Los Angeles. Delta has extensive capacity to transport the vaccines internationally, and we are ready to be creative and meet the needs of our customers and most importantly humanity. We also have cargo-only charter flexibility and fast response for one way/round-trip operations to/from Delta network or offline airports.

Shippers from Peli BioThermal are used regularly to transport vital temperature sensitive products by air to their clients, as the above video demonstrates

Delta delivers first Covid-19 vaccine shipments

Delta Cargo has begun Covid-19 vaccine shipments, with the most recent from Detroit to Atlanta and San Francisco, the company announced this week (16 December). This follows successful shipments of test vaccines earlier this year.

The vaccines are being shipped with the highest priority on Delta aircraft, with the entire journey monitored in Delta’s ‘Vaccine Watch Tower’ that enables full end-to-end visibility for all vaccine shipments, the company said. With 24/7 centralised monitoring and customer reporting, the tower works closely with flight operations to ensure the safe and secure transportation of the vaccines at the required temperature.

Walpole commented: “Within three hours of being engaged, Delta Cargo had the vaccines in hand and on their way. Our successful Covid-19 vaccine shipments this week prove what we’ve known for a long time: that we’re ready and able to take on more in the all-hands-on-deck domestic and global distribution effort of this life-saving vaccine.

“Our vaccine task force, which was created months ago to understand the shipping requirements and work with healthcare and pharmaceutical experts, has built scalable critical shipment capabilities to support this effort.”


What is DoKaSch doing to prepare for the distribution of potential Covid-19 vaccines – what are the main tasks to achieve in order to ramp up operations for it and what kind of collaboration has there been? Does it require the introduction of additional services or infrastructure?

Andreas Seitz: We have not only increased our stocks, but also expanded our network of airlines. Another important aspect will be the efficient usage of assets. A shortage of capacities is very likely at the moment and the whole industry has to adapt to it. That is why it is important to reduce the turn-around times of containers to achieve a high availability of transport options. We are focusing on this aspect right now and are currently discussing with our partners how to achieve that goal.

Source: DoKaSch

Furthermore, we will establish new depots, for example in India, which is an important location for global pharma production. However, these are all very general approaches to prepare for the upcoming transport of vaccines. As long as it is not clear how high the demand for different destinations will be, we have to prepare as well as possible, but cannot plan every specific detail.

A key element is the storage temperature – how will this challenge be overcome in terms of there being enough air cargo containers capable of transporting the vaccine?

We are expecting that most of the vaccines will finally be transported in the 2-8°C range. To transport them all in time will require all available solutions on the market. Of course, freight capacity will be a limiting factor, but when airlines and forwarders work together and pool their resources, I am sure that not only the transport of vaccines, but also the usual supply of life-saving drugs will be ensured at all times.

Source: DoKaSch

What are the next steps?

Currently, we are still stabbing in the dark when it comes to specific plans and next steps. It is not clear where vaccines will be produced and what kind of amounts can be expected. We also do not know if the vaccines will be distributed globally or on a regional level because it most likely depends on each different location. Slowly, things are becoming clearer, but we are far from knowing the exact details. In turn, the next weeks will be an important time to gather more information to prepare as precisely as possible.

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

This is an exceptional situation and usual planning patterns are not flexible enough to solve the challenges ahead. That is why it is important that pharmaceutical producers together with their forwarders and suppliers work on a joint solution for the distribution of their products. They have to take responsibility for the preparation of capable and reliable supply chains. The key to achieve this goal is proper communication with every stakeholder along the supply chain to have the right solutions and capacities ready and at the right place when needed.

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