The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released guidance to help ensure the air cargo industry is ready to support the handling, transport and distribution of potential Covid-19 vaccines.

    A new document, called Guidance for Vaccine and Pharmaceutical Logistics and Distribution, provides recommendations for governments and the logistics supply chain.

    IATA said the aim was to prepare stakeholders “for what will be the largest and most complex global logistics operation ever undertaken”.

    Volga Dnepr

    Several key challenges have been identified by IATA. They include:

    • The availability of temperature-controlled storage facilities and contingencies when such facilities are not available;
    • Defining roles and responsibilities of parties involved in the distribution of vaccines, particularly government authorities and NGOs, to “assist safe, fast and equitable distribution as broadly as possible”; and,
    • Industry preparedness for vaccine distribution.

    Among the challenges of industry preparedness is capacity and connectivity. “The global route network has been reduced dramatically from the pre-Covid 22,000 city pairs,” noted IATA. “Governments need to re-establish air connectivity to ensure adequate capacity is available for vaccine distribution.”

    Another challenge is facilities and infrastructure. IATA noted that the first vaccine manufacturer to apply for regulatory approval requires the vaccine to be shipped and stored in a deep-frozen state, making ultra-cold chain facilities across the supply chain essential.

    “Some types of refrigerants are classified as a dangerous goods and volumes are regulated which adds an additional layer of complexity,” the association said. “Considerations include availability of temperature-controlled facilities and equipment and staff trained to handle time- and temperature-sensitive vaccines.”

    IATA also noted the challenges of border management and security. Timely regulatory approvals and storage and clearance by customs and health authorities will be essential, it said. Arrangements must also be put in place to ensure that shipments remain secure from tampering and theft. “Processes are in place already, but the huge volume of vaccine shipments will require early planning to ensure that they are scalable,” said the association.

    IATA’s director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac commented: “Delivering billions of doses of a vaccine that must be transported and stored in a deep-frozen state to the entire world efficiently will involve hugely complex logistical challenges across the supply chain.

    “While the immediate challenge is the implementation of Covid-19 testing measures to re-open borders without quarantine, we must be prepared for when a vaccine is ready. This guidance material is an important part of those preparations.”

    The new guidance was produced with the support of a broad range of partners, including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA), the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the UK Civil Aviation Authority, the World Bank, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

    IATA said the guidance, which can be downloaded here, includes a repository of international standards and guidelines related to the transport of vaccines and would be updated regularly as information is made available to the industry. A joint information-sharing forum for stakeholders has also been established.

    Airline Cargo Management’s Winter edition will feature an in-depth report on how the industry is preparing to distribute potential Covid-19 vaccines. The issue is due to be published on 2 December.