Covid-19 is the biggest single blow to the bottom line of the airline industry. In Africa, the hope for quick vaccine deliveries could be a game-changer to repositioning the continent’s ailing aviation industry. The disruption affected even virus-free African countries. The rate of infection is lower on the continent compared to Europe, Asia, and parts of the Americas, where lockdowns are in place.

The pandemic has revealed shortcomings in global supply chains and forced businesses to make logistics a bigger strategic priority. Successfully delivering Covid-19 vaccines will test manufacturers and shippers on lessons learned.

The air-cargo industry is making plans for delivering as many as 20 billion Covid-19 vaccination doses, even before regulators approved any of the multiple treatments under development. Shippers say they are having to plan without knowing exactly how many vaccine doses they’ll have to ship, where they will be manufactured, and how cold they have to be kept.

Pharmaceutical companies and shippers say they expect the bulk of vaccine supplies to be transported by air. Cargo airline executives are working on a delivery schedule that assumes initial batches become available during the traditional peak season for shipping that runs from fall through early February. Airlines said they would make room for essential supplies such as vaccines, just as they have for personal protective equipment throughout the pandemic.

As countries begin placing orders and administering COVID-19 vaccines, questions have been asked about who will handle the logistical nightmare that is transportation and distribution of the vaccines (when they become available) in Africa.

The equivalent of 8,000 Boeing 747 flights will be needed, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said.  The Director-General and Chief Executive of IATA, Alexandre de Junaic said, “Safely delivering Covid-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry.”

Ethiopian Airlines announced the launch of a cold chain air freight to transport temperature-sensitive medicines, including a potential COVID-19 vaccine. “Ethiopian Airlines will repeat it’s remarkable and globally recognized success in leading the fast delivery of PPEs a few months ago with similar delivery speed, professional handling and maintaining the cold chain during the forthcoming global distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine.  In anticipation of the Covid-19 vaccine release, we will be at the forefront to further discharge our responsibility in the distribution of the vaccine across the globe”, said Ethiopian Group CEO Tewolde GebreMariam”.

Freighters carrying medicines will depart Shenzhen, southern China twice a week to Africa, and to the rest of the world via Dubai and Addis Ababa, according to a press release. In Nairobi, Kenya Airways unveiled its ultra-modern pharma facility at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Since March, the national carrier has transported vital goods and medical supplies, about 6,000 tonnes of much-needed medical equipment to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on governments to ensure that aviation workers should be next in line for COVID vaccines after health care workers and vulnerable groups. IATA sought to justify its comments by saying the aviation industry is integral to the distribution of medical supplies, medicines, and soon, the COVID-19 vaccine itself.

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