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Airlines Say Distributing COVID-19 Vaccine Could Be Delayed Because Industry Has Been Hit So Hard

Airlines Say Distributing COVID-19 Vaccine Could Be Delayed Because Industry Has Been Hit So Hard

An aviation industry body that represents over 290 airlines worldwide claims distributing COVID-19 vaccines once they are approved could be delayed because so many aircraft are in long-term storage and staff laid-off. Vaccines for the SARS-CoV-2 virus are being developed at breakneck speed with many of the frontrunner pharmaceutical companies mass-producing vaccines even before they’re proven to be both safe and effective.

Once regulatory authorities approve a vaccine the race will be on to distribute it around the world. Officials in the United States are drawing up contingency plans for distribution as soon as late October, while similar planning scenarios are already taking place in Europe and elsewhere.

But a critical pinch point could be in air cargo – with the World Health Organization (WHO) already reporting severe difficulties in maintaining current vaccine programs, in part because of limited air connectivity.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) transporting a single dose of vaccine to the world’s 7.8 billion inhabitants would fill 8,000 Boeing 747 cargo aircraft. “Even if we assume that half the needed vaccines can be transported by land, the air cargo industry will still face its largest single transport challenge ever,” warned IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac.

“If borders remain closed, travel curtailed, fleets grounded and employees furloughed, the capacity to deliver life-saving vaccines will be very much compromised,” de Juniac continued.

His comments come as Congress returns to continue negotiations on a second COVID-19 relief bill that, if approved, would stop most U.S. airlines from furloughing thousands of employees, including pilots and flight attendants on October 1.

Recent analysis suggests half a million aviation jobs could be lost globally by the end of the year unless more government support is forthcoming. Many aviation workers, especially pilots, require refresher training and background checks, and can’t simply be brought back to work at a moments notice.

Hundreds of aircraft also remain in remote longterm storage.

The executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore agreed that the role of airlines would be “critical in this endeavour” to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine to the world’s population. An endeavour that could face serious setbacks unless governments start planning now.

“Safely delivering COVID-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century,” concluded de Juniac. But while airlines have supported a global upturn in cargo demand, current capacity might not even be close to what is required once a vaccine is approved

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