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Distributing COVID-19 vaccines may require 8,000 aircraft, IATA estimates

IATA is working with airlines, airports, global health bodies and pharmaceutical firms to prepare a distribution plan for COVID-19 vaccines.

September 10, 2020 / 11:52 AM IST

Distributing the COVID-19 vaccines to more than seven billion people across the globe could require a global airlift of 8,000 Boeing 747 freighters, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The estimate assumes that inoculation would require a single dose, but the demand for jets could be higher if multiple doses are needed, Glyn Hughes, IATA's head of cargo said, as quoted by Bloomberg.

"Airlift is the correct terminology here," Hughes said. "We know the procedures well. What we need to do is scale them up to the magnitude that will be required," he added at a media briefing.

The pandemic has created a rush to create vaccines, with more than 30 candidates going through human clinical trials.

IATA is working with airlines, airports, global health bodies and pharmaceutical firms to prepare a distribution plan for COVID-19 vaccines, even touting it as the industry’s “largest single transport challenge ever."If some vaccines require temperatures of 2-to-8 degrees Celsius, then some aircraft might not be suitable, Hughes said. Shipments that require freezing would exclude even more planes.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Air France-KLM is exploring ways to expand its network in Africa, and Frankfurt airport is looking for ways it can assist the distribution, Bloomberg reported.

Follow our full coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic here.

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first published: Sep 10, 2020 09:20 am