LONDON: Dubai-based carrier Emirates is gearing up to distribute COVID-19 vaccines as pharma companies mobilize for the challenging logistics of delivering them to users.
It comes as airlines have warned that continuing travel curbs could potentially slow the distribution of the vaccines because of the high proportion of air cargo transported in the bellies of passenger planes.
As one of the big “super connector” hubs of global travel, Dubai and its airline may play an important role in the months ahead as the new COVID-19 vaccines move into mass production.
“In the scenario where a COVID-19 vaccine would have to be stored at extremely low temperatures, vaccine manufacturers will include passive packaging incorporating dry ice in order to maintain the vaccines at the required temperature,” an Emirates SkyCargo spokesperson told Arab News.
“At our dedicated GDP certified COVID-19 airside hub in Dubai, we would be able to provide value added services including re-icing to help maintain the vaccines at the specified low temperature over a longer period of time.”
Earlier, BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin told CNN said that the company, which has been working on a COVID-19 vaccine with Pfizer, will file paperwork for the emergency use of its vaccine with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday.
Şahin said he expected the approval process to be completed and distribution to begin before the end of the year.
“I am confident that if everything goes well, and we have a very organized vaccine supply, that we could have a normal winter 2021 — a normal summer and winter 2021,” said Şahin.
Pfizer has said that a final analysis of the phase 3 trial of its coronavirus vaccine showed it was 95 percent effective in preventing infections, even in older adults.
Other major airline groups are also preparing for distribution of the planned new vaccines. Air France-KLM said this week that it was preparing a test run to fly out dummy vaccine shipments from the KLM hub at Amsterdam-Schiphol.
Last year Emirates SkyCargo transported more than 75 million kilograms of pharmaceuticals on its aircraft.
Since 2016, the carrier has invested heavily in developing EU GDP certified infrastructure for transporting pharmaceuticals and introduced a specialized product ‘Emirates Pharma’ with three tiers for transporting temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals.
Last month Emirates SkyCargo revealed plans to establish the world’s first dedicated airside cargo hub for the vaccine in Dubai. The air cargo carrier is setting up its Emirates SkyCentral DWC cargo terminal in Dubai South to serve as a dedicated hub for cold chain storage and distribution of the vaccine.