IATA offers cargo guidelines for vaccine distribution

IATA offers cargo guidelines for vaccine distribution

Caption: IATA offers cargo guidelines for vaccine distribution

With the news that pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Moderna claimed to have created effective Covid-19 vaccines, public health leaders are turning their attention to the colossal challenge of building a supply chain to whisk the life-saving medicine around the globe in the coming months.

Calling that process “the largest and most complex global logistics operation ever undertaken,” the International Air Transport Association (IATA) today released a set of guidelines that it says can help governments and supply chain partners manage the complex handling, transport, and distribution requirements involved.

The task will be further complicated by a requirement that the two vaccines involved must be transported at ultra-low temperatures, as low as minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, a condition that experts warn will strain the capacity of existing pharmaceutical cold chains.

With an eye on clearing those hurdles, some logistics providers are already preparing, saying they can apply lessons learned from maintaining their warehouse and transportation operations during the early days of the pandemic. At the same time, investors are pumping money into platforms to support the effort, such as flying drones and wireless tracking tags.

But even with efficient practices, vaccine distribution will require a massive airlift of planes to carry the valuable freight to every country, coming at a time when lockdowns and travel bans have crippled the world’s cargo and passenger airlines, IATA itself has warned.

IATA says its new program can help, with the group’s “Guidance for Vaccine and Pharmaceutical Logistics and Distribution” offering a repository of international standards and guidelines, set to be updated regularly and accompanied by a joint information-sharing forum for stakeholders.

“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,” IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said in a release. “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 guidance covers areas such as: the availability of temperature-controlled storage facilities, defining the roles and responsibilities of parties involved, air cargo capacity and connectivity, cold chain infrastructure requirements such as refrigerants, accelerated customs and border management, and shipping security to guard against theft.