As countries around the globe work toward a vaccine for COVID-19, a trade organization for the majority of the world's airlines is urging governments and stakeholders to begin preparations for what promises to be a challenging and logistically complicated mission of transporting billions of doses.
"Safely delivering COVID-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry," said Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO of the International Air and Transport Association.
The group said quick and efficient transportation and distribution of any vaccine will not be possible without careful planning and that the process will be challenging given the current state of the aviation industry.
"In planning their vaccine programs, particularly in the developing world, governments must take very careful consideration of the limited air cargo capacity that is available at the moment," de Juniac said. "If borders remain closed, travel curtailed, fleets grounded and employees furloughed, the capacity to deliver lifesaving vaccines will be very much compromised."
Providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would fill 8,000 747 cargo aircraft, according to the IATA.
Aside from the obstacles presented by the state of the industry, the IATA is also urging those involved in the transportation of the vaccine to consider other logistical challenges.
Pfizer's vaccine candidate must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while manufacturer Moderna's vaccine candidate would need to be transported at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.
"While there are still many unknowns, it is clear that the scale of activity will be vast, that cold-chain facilities will be required and that delivery to every corner of the planet will be needed," the IATA said.
In the U.S., the CDC, Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense are leading the planning for distribution. The CDC has asked states to be ready to possibly receive a vaccine by as early as Nov. 1.
"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," de Juniac said.