New IATA Guidance Prepares for Global Vaccine Distribution

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James Beagrie
Last Updated: 21 April 2021

Guidance issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on 16 November 2020 aims to ensure that the air cargo industry is readied for the transportation and distribution of vaccines vital in the global battle against COVID-19.

Guidance for Vaccine and Pharmaceutical Logistics and Distribution released by IATA, details its recommendations to governments and other organisations for what IATA claims will be the largest ever global logistical operation in history.

Transporting vaccine in a deep-frozen state to the entire world is a hugely complex logistical challenge

A Logistical Challenge

Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO of IATA, said, “Delivering billions of doses of a vaccine that must be transported and stored in a deep-frozen state to the entire world efficiently will involve hugely complex logistical challenges across the supply chain.

“While the immediate challenge is the implementation of COVID-19 testing measures to re-open borders without quarantine, we must be prepared for when a vaccine is ready. This guidance material is an important part of those preparations.”

IATA Partner Organisations

The guidance was developed by IATA with the support of organisations, including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA), International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), UK Civil Aviation Authority, World Bank, World Customs Organization (WCO) and World Trade Organization (WTO).

It includes a list of the international standards and guidelines that relate to the transport of vaccines, which will be updated as more information becomes available.

IATA has also established a joint forum for information sharing.

Key Challenges

IATA’s guidance has highlighted the following major challenges when distributing the life-saving vaccines.

These include:

  • The availability of facilities with adequate temperature control, as well as contingencies for when these facilities are not available;
  • Clearly defining the roles of all parties to ensure the safe, swift and equitable distribution of the vaccines; and
  • Industry preparedness, such as capacity and connectivity, facilities and infrastructure, border management, and security.

Priorities include introducing fast-track procedures for flights carrying COVID-19 vaccines, as well as safe storage to ensure shipments are secure from potential theft, tampering or sabotage.

Although many of the procedures are currently in place, the huge volume of vaccine shipments anticipated over the next few months, requires early planning to ensure scalability, IATA recommends.

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