Two African carriers, Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways are positioning themselves for the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines. In Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Airlines has launched a cold chain air freight to transport temperature sensitive medicines, including potential COVID-19 vaccines. Of the three vaccines that have so far proven to have high efficacy, Astrazeneca from the UK needs storage of between two and eight degrees, Moderna needs 20 degrees and Pfizer Biontech needs between -60 degrees to -90 degrees.
The Addis Ababa terminal has a capacity of at least one million tonnes of cargo annually. As the COVID-19 vaccine presents a business opportunity for transportation, compartments are ready to accommodate different temperature requirements.
“We have compartmentalized storage areas where we store pharmaceuticals and important and sensitive shipment where there are temperature requirements. We have for example, between two to eight degrees, 15 to 25 degrees and we have a temperature range that reaches up to negative 25 deep freezers so as per the temperature requirements of the pharmaceuticals. They can be stored in different compartments of our warehouses,” says Ethiopia Cargo Managing and Logistic Services Fitsum Abadi.
Over 30 aircrafts are now dedicated to Vaccine transportation.
“We have 25 only cargo uplifting aircrafts. We have a dedicated aircraft of 12: ten 777 and two 738 models. We have converted wide body passenger aircrafts into uplifting only cargo by removing the passenger seats. There are about 16 aircrafts, so we already have 28 aircrafts ready. We have converted seven airbus 350s by removing the seats. We have converted 777 300 model aircrafts two of them, 777 aircrafts three of them, 787- 900 two of them and even Q400models, two of them,” adds Abadi.
These machines called Dollies are a new addition to the vaccine transportation preparation. They will transport the vaccines from the warehouse to aircrafts while retaining their temperature.
“These cool dollies can range their temperature from -29 to +27 degree. So they are important to keep the integrity and quality of pharmaceuticals directly related with human lives. We also have cold containers that keep these vaccines in their temperature range in the aircraft. We transport them on those cold containers from point A to point B,” explains Abadi.
And business has already started trickling in.
“The airline says it has already got an order from China to transport COVID-19 vaccines from China to Brazil within the next 20 days.”
African countries are yet to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines, with the Africa Centers for Diseases Control and prevention saying it is hard to tell when any vaccine will arrive in Africa. Ethiopian Airlines says when that time comes it will be on standby.