EMIRATES SkyCargo ­– which is rightly proud of its remarkable contribution to helping in the global war on Coronavirus – expects to reach the transportation milestone of 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of this month, writes Thelma Etim.

Since late 2020, the Middle Eastern carrier has moved in excess of 75 million doses of the life-saving medicines on more than 250 flights to some 60 destinations, a statement reveals. Such an achievement cements SkyCargo’s position as one of the leading specialists in transporting pharmaceuticals within the global airfreight industry, it insists.

The news comes as the Emirates airfreight division reveals further plans to expand its automated cool room capability to 94 pallet positions at its pharmaceuticals facility at Dubai International Airport, a location which boasts Good Distribution Practice (GDP) certification – a quality endorsement for warehouse and distribution centres dedicated to the handling of time- and temperature-sensitive shipments.

The extended cool room will be able to store up to 90 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines at any one time and will provide an additional 2,600-sq m temperature-controlled environment offering temperature ranges from two to 25 degrees Celsius for the storage and handling of vaccines and other pharma shipments, the statement points out.

Commenting on the company’s progressive pharma strategy, Nabil Sultan, divisional senior vice-president of cargo at the airline, says Emirates SkyCargo is particularly proud to have flown more than 350 tonnes of COVID-19 vaccines around the world, delivering much needed support to communities that are still heavily impacted by the current wave of the pandemic. “However, we are always looking ahead and we anticipate that there will be an increase in demand to transport [such] vaccines to developing nations during the second half of this year,” he insists.

“Already, in line with increased manufacturing [output], we have seen a ramping up of COVID-19 vaccine volumes that have been transported over the last few weeks. We expect to reach the 100 million doses milestone well before the end of this month.”

Despite a standard working environment of severely high day-time temperatures, even in the early stages of the pandemic the airline was one of the first specialist air cargo carriers to adequately prepare for the shipping of COVID-19 vaccines with a plan that embraced the establishment of a GDP-certified airside ground handling system at the Dubai hub.SkyCargo’s cool chain infrastructure for protecting temperature-sensitive shipments in transit between the aircraft and the Dubai cargo terminal now comprises a facility of more than 20,000-sq m for the storage and handling of the life-preserving vaccines, in an area which also employs more than 50 ‘cool dollies’.

Then, in January 2020, the airfreight division joined forces with complementary organisations DP World, the International Humanitarian City and Dubai Airports to establish the Dubai Vaccine Logistics Alliance with the aim of accelerating the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines through Dubai and onwards to developing countries.

SkyCargo is also one of a number of leading airlines to have signed a unique agreement with UNICEF to support equal access to and prioritise the shipment of vaccines, as well as other essential medicines, medical devices and additional critical supplies, around the world. Under the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative, the carrier has agreed to provide additional capacity to routes where needed, whilst continuing to safeguard the efficacy of the life-saving medicines in time- and temperature-sensitive secure environments.

Based on the COVAX initiative – a global effort co-led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which, from the first half of this year, aimed at providing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines – is helping 145 countries to receive initial doses to immunise some three per cent of their populations.

In the period, the carrier has also shipped thousands of tonnes of other essential medical supplies and items including personal protective equipment (PPE).

SkyCargo has also established a medical airbridge to fly urgent clinical supplies such as oxygen generators to India which is currently struggling with a second wave of Coronavirus. Under this particular humanitarian initiative, the airfreight division has been offering available cargo capacity free-of-charge to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for shipping relief goods from Dubai to nine destinations in the COVID-stricken sub-continent.

Sultan admits that the last six months has been a valuable and mutual learning experience for both Emirates SkyCargo and also for its pharmaceuticals manufacturers and the airline’s logistics partners. “We have been able to apply these learnings to make the process of vaccine transportation faster and more efficient, providing a valuable boost to the next phase of COVID-19 vaccine transportation, as well as for other temperature-sensitive pharma products in the future,” he insists.

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