Due to the global reach of Covid-19, the swift and successful worldwide deliverance of any tried and tested vaccination was always going to an awesome task to complete. Thanks to The International Air Transport Association (IATA), we now know that it be will be the ‘largest transport challenge ever’ and ‘the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry’. This operation would require the equivalent of 8,000 Boeing 747s according to the airline industry, and that’s on the assumption that only 7.8 billions vaccinations, one dose to every person on earth, would be needed to trigger global immunity.
So, what are the main obstacles the industry faces?
Not every plane can be used to transport a future COVID-19 vaccine. Any aircraft transporting a vaccine needs an internal temperature range of between 2 and 8C. According to the World Health Organisation (W.H.O), a vaccine’s potency and ability to adequately protect a vaccinated patient can diminish irreparably once a vaccine is exposed to inappropriate temperatures. Therefore a ‘cold chain’ is used to maintain its quality and protect it from deadly temperature extremes. This specific criterion means that while airlines have toyed with the idea of using commercial aircraft in light of the severe downturn in passenger flights, this will not always be possible.
Flights to places of the world that currently don’t have the capability to produce vaccines, such as parts of South East Asia are vital and represent some countries only hopes for national immunity, considering how long, arduous and inevitably consequential a lengthy trip predominately on land, would be for the vaccine and its transporters.
-Varying regional environments
There are no globally enforced standards in place for travel, quarantine, healthcare or the funding of the aviation industry at this moment. The pandemic has seen different nations, regions and continents adopt their own individualistic approach to this crisis and prioritise different elements of society above others, just compare Brazil and South Korea’s different approaches for example: while all perfectly entitled to choose their own path, this lack of a level global playing field makes the successful deliverance and maintenance of a future COVID vaccine even more difficult, even once it’s reached its destination.
As the IATA states, all national Government’s even in the poorest countries on earth, need to ensure that a network of cool storage facilities, the facilities security and international border processes are prepared to properly house the vaccine once it was delivered. It also recommends the Government’s readily procure and or repurpose buildings to ensure that temperature-controlled facilities and equipment are available, as well as making sure there are enough people trained to handle time and temperature-sensitive vaccines. As IATA’s chief executive Alexandre de Juniac went on to say, ‘Vaccines will be highly valuable commodities. Arrangements must be in place to keep ensure that shipments remain secure from tampering and theft.’ While this is all true, it remains to be seen whether this will be possible for all countries to implement. As the IATA rightly states, distributing a vaccine across Africa would be “impossible” right now thanks to the lack of cargo capacity, the size of the region and the complexities of border crossings on the continent, and that’s even before discussing how much a vaccination would cost and whether or not some African nations would be able to afford it at this current time.
“Military precision” is needed to execute this endeavour on a global scale, especially when considering that civil wars continue to rage on in places like Libya, Syria and Yemen, nations like Iraq and Afghanistan remain dangerously unstable, as regional hegemonies and deeply held cultural differences make it inevitable that there will be some hostility and unwillingness to tolerate and accept the perceived intrusion of an international or western organisation on their territory, sphere of influence or people, regardless of what they are bringing.
Winning the hearts and minds of every nation and its people on earth may well be as important and integral to the global distribution of a vaccine as the actual logistics of the distribution itself.