IATA webinar looks at air cargo industry readiness to transport COVID-19 vaccines

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By Kim Biggar

Summary: IATA Webinar – Industry Readiness for Vaccine and Life Science Products Transportation, Part 1

On October 21, IATA presented the first of three webinars on the topic of industry readiness for vaccine and life science products transportation, as the world heads toward the enormous job of distributing COVID-19 vaccines when they become available.

Global air cargo capacity, as of August, was down about 30 percent year over year, noted Andrew Matters, Deputy Chief Economist at IATA, a situation that will complicate distribution of the expected 8 billion to 16 billion required doses of vaccines if it continues.

Andrea Gruber, Head of Special Cargo at IATA, emphasized the need for global collaboration and effective communication to move vaccines to where they’re needed around the globe. Among the challenges supply chain stakeholders will face are:

  • the exceptional volume of product;
  • limited cargo capacity;
  • limited or non-existent infrastructure and equipment, depending on location;
  • the need for security measures to prevent theft, counterfeiting and tampering;
  • the need for equitable distribution, starting with those most in need: for example, front-line medical workers and the elderly, in all countries;
  • the need for a large number of stakeholders to work together and stay connected in real time;
  • the need for airlines, among other participants, to be DG-qualified and equipped;
  • the need for appropriately trained workers across the supply chain dedicated to movement of the vaccines; and
  • the need for increased airline connectivity (many routes have been cancelled due to COVID-19).

While so much uncertainty remains about the transportation and packaging requirements for approved vaccines, planning, collaboration and communication are essential to prepare as much as possible in the coming weeks to meet those requirements as they become clearer.

Risk assessment will be key, said Ronald Schaefer, Senior Principal, Consulting for IATA, for stakeholders to understand what could go wrong and be prepared to solve problems as they arise. For example, companies, which may already be dealing with staff shortages due to the virus, should develop contingency plans for shortages during the critical months ahead and must ensure they adequately train employees to handle vaccine-related requirements.

Because of the nature of this work as essential, IATA is promoting the sharing of best practices among competitors. Community development of processes will help ensure the best-possible outcomes of this global effort.

Nicola Caristo, Secretary General of the Cool Chain Association, also spoke on the webinar, stressing the benefits of a change-management approach to better connect the airlines and ground handlers for the vaccine-distribution program.

IATA will host two more webinars on the topic of transporting vaccines by air. The next one will be held on November 24, and the third early in 2021. You can register for these webinars and access recorded webinars, including the session described above, at www.iata.org/en/events/webinars.