8,000 Cargo Planes Required to Transport COVID-19 Vaccines Around the World

It will be the 'largest transport challenge ever,' says IATA.
Fabienne Lang

The COVID-19 vaccine has been at the top of the priority list this year as pharmaceutical companies rush to develop one. Once it's ready, though, how easy will it be to transport it in large amounts around the world to ensure it reaches everyone safely? 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is urging governments and airlines to start looking into the issue of transporting vaccines now. As in, right now. 

Per the IATA, the equivalent of 8,000 Boeing 747 planes are needed to transport the vaccine globally so that every single human on Earth can be inoculated with one dose.


'Mission of the century'

"Safely delivering Covid-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry. But it won't happen without careful advance planning. And the time for that is now," said IATA's chief executive Alexandre de Juniac.

A COVID-19 vaccine is still being trialed and tested around the world, but the IATA says that there's no time to waste as preparations for its secure transport will need a lot of planning, with a lot of coordination and cooperation.

Airports, airlines, global health organizations, and pharmaceutical firms all need to work together to ensure the upcoming vaccine will be transported around the world seamlessly. 

"We urge governments to take the lead in facilitating cooperation across the logistics chain so that the facilities, security arrangements, and border processes are ready for the mammoth and complex task ahead," explained de Juniac.

Specific cargo planes are needed in order to move the vaccine from point to point as not all airplanes can house them safely for the duration of a trip. For instance, drug transportation typically requires a temperature range between 35 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit (two and eight degrees Celcius), per the BBC.

Other vaccines sometimes require freezing, which not all airlines are capable of offering. 

Not only will temperature control play a major part in the vaccine's transportation requirements, so will proper staff training be needed. Serious monitoring systems will have to be in place, and flight crews will have to be granted special permission not to quarantine as they go from country to country, so as to speed up the process. 

On top of that, security measures will have to be vigilant. The vaccine will be a prized possession with theft and tampering becoming high possibilities.