RwandAir ready for COVID-19 vaccine transportation when approved?

On 10 December 2020 at 02:39

As countries begin placing orders for COVID-19 vaccines, worries have been aroused wondering who will handle the logistical needs when they become available in Africa.

So far, four coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines have reached the final stage of testing, and one of the frontrunners is making progress toward the goal of proving to be safe and effective.

However, not all aircraft can carry the vaccine as they require storage conditions with temperature ranging between 2 and 8 Celsius degree. Some vaccines on the other hand require storage with Zero Celsius degree or below, which means only designated aircrafts can transport the vaccines.

For instance, AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate from Oxford University can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures, not needing the supercool storage the Pfizer vaccine requires. It is the only one with easy transport requirements.

Moderna vaccine manufactured by Americans is expected to remain stable at standard refrigerated conditions of 2° to 8°C for up to 30 days within the 6-month shelf life.

Pfizer or BionTech vaccines already in use in the United Kingdom set conditions for storage in standard refrigerated conditions of 70 Celsius degree while Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine can be stored under same conditions of AstraZeneca.

Health experts show that poor countries or majority of African countries might choose AstraZeneca with moderate storage conditions unlike other vaccines with higher temperature requirements.

It is said that these vaccines take definitive effect after taking it two times.

Towards the beginning of September, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that shipping a coronavirus vaccine around the world will be the "largest transport challenge ever" adding that the equivalent of 8,000 Boeing 747s will be needed.

"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.

At the time, he said that flights to certain parts of the world, including some areas of South East Asia, will be critical as they lack vaccine-production capabilities.

Distributing a vaccine across Africa would be "impossible" right now IATA says given the lack of cargo capacity, size of the region and the complexities of border crossings.

Transportation will need "almost military precision" and will require cool facilities across a network of locations where the vaccine will be stored.

IATA urged governments to begin careful planning now to ensure they are fully prepared once vaccines are approved and available for distribution.

Is RwandAir ready?

RwandAir is one among airlines flying to many African destinations that could intervene in the distribution of the vaccine once approved and ready for distribution.

The CEO of RwandAir, Yvonne Manzi Makolo has told IGIHE that the carrier has been using passenger aircrafts as an alternative for air cargo shipping since the period of lockdown.

She explained that transportation of COVID-19 vaccine might be possible when available.

“We still use passenger aircrafts for air cargo transportation even to Europe. We are studying how we can also transport the vaccines using ordinary airlines when it is time. It has not yet been approved but it is possible. The vaccine has to be transported in special temperature conditions. So, I cannot assure you of accurate information right now because we are still weighing on requirements for transportation of various vaccines,” said Makolo.

Kenya Airways is another regional carrier seeking to play a role in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

Kenya Airways chief executive officer Allan Kilavuka has announced that the airline has been relying on cargo flights to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic that has paralysed the global travel, tourism and aviation sectors.

Mr Kilavuka said the national carrier prepared early for a role in taking the vaccines to various countries. “Even before the vaccine was announced, we had set up a cold room in Nairobi at our cargo centre which can store heat sensitive products like medicines,” he said.

The CEO of RwandAir, Yvonne Manzi Makolo has told IGIHE that the carrier has been using passenger aircrafts as an alternative for air cargo shipping since the period of lockdown./ Photo : File