With anticipation for COVID-19 vaccines to bring life back to normal ever-growing, shipping any safe and effective vaccine around the world whenever it is approved will be the “largest transport challenge ever”.
The equivalent of 8,000 Boeing 747s will be needed, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in a statement.
There are no COVID-19 vaccines approved or even submitted for approval and the US’ top infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci told CBS This Morning that a vaccine is more likely early next year, but IATA is already working with airlines, airports, global health bodies and drug firms on a global airlift plan.
The distribution programme assumes only one dose per person is needed but there is a possibility of two doses required.
“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,” IATA’s chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said.
Airlines have been shifting their focus on to delivering cargo during the severe downturn in passenger flights in the coronavirus pandemic. Shipping vaccines is far more difficult.
Not all planes are suitable for delivering vaccines as they need a typical temperature range of between 2C and 8C for transporting drugs. Some vaccines, like Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, may require frozen temperatures which would exclude a lot of aircraft.
“Delivering billions of doses of vaccine to the entire world efficiently will involve hugely complex logistical and programmatic obstacles all the way along the supply chain. We look forward to working together with government, vaccine manufacturers and logistical partners to ensure an efficient global roll-out of a safe and affordable COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Flights to certain parts of the world, including some areas of South East Asia, will be critical as they lack vaccine-production capabilities and distributing a vaccine across Africa would be “impossible” IATA says given the lack of cargo capacity, size of the region and the complexities of border crossings.
Transportation will need “almost military precision” and will require cool facilities across a network of locations where the vaccine will be stored.
IATA has urged governments to begin careful planning now to ensure they are fully prepared once vaccines are approved and available for distribution.
About 140 COVID-19 vaccines are in early development, and around two dozen are now being tested on people in clinical trials. Three COVID-19 vaccines are in final Phase 3 trials – Pfizer and BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Oxford University, UK and Moderna.
Pfizer and BioNTech’s leading mRNA vaccine hopeful triggered a neutralising antibody response in macaques, as well as antigen-specific T cell responses in both monkeys and mice, data published on Wednesday on the preprint site BioRxiv showed. After receiving two doses of the vaccine, macaques who were challenged with COVID-19 had no viral RNA in their lower respiratory tracts, whereas most non-immunized animals did, Pfizer reported.
Pfizer and BioNTech has reached agreement with the European Commission to provide an initial 200 million vaccine doses to the EU, with the option to supply another 100 million doses at a later date, the partners said in a release. Slated for delivery by year’s end, doses will be made at BioNTech’s German manufacturing sites and Pfizer’s Belgian plant. The deal marks the partners’ largest initial vaccine order to date.
AstraZeneca placed its phase 3 trial on hold after a female UK participant suffered a severe reaction — potentially transverse myelitis, or inflammation of the spinal cord.
The phase 3 trials of Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are expected to complete enrolment by end of September, Fauci said. It will then take another month or more for the drugmakers to test a second dose in patients. Sufficient data for a vaccine approval is unlikely before the end of the year, Fauci added.