UNICEF signs up airlines for vaccine distribution efforts

By Damian Brett

UNICEF has signed agreements with several airlines as part of its Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative, which will support efforts to provide equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines across the world.

The United Nations (UN) children’s fund announced today that as part of its vaccine distribution efforts it has signed agreements with AirBridgeCargo, Air France KLM Martinair (AFKLMP) Cargo, Astral Aviation, Brussels Airlines, Cargolux, Cathay Pacific, Emirates SkyCargo, Etihad Cargo, Ethiopian Airlines Cargo, IAG Cargo, Korean Air, Lufthansa Cargo, Qatar Airways, Saudia, Singapore Airlines and United.

The agreements come after the UN established a Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX) to ensure that less prosperous countries receive enough vaccines.

Based on the COVAX Facility’s indicative distribution and first round allocation plan, 145 countries will receive doses starting in the first half of 2021 to immunise around 3% of their population, on average, subject to all requirements being met and final allocation plans.

AFKLMP Cargo said it had many years of experience transporting temperature-controlled pharmaceuticals, was the first airline group to be CEIV Pharma certified by IATA and has developed a specific product for the distribution of vaccines.

GertJan Roelands, senior vice president sales and distribution Air France KLM Martinair Cargo, said: “We’re very pleased to be formalising our partnership with UNICEF by signing a Memorandum of Understanding. We’ve been working together for a long time and are confidently looking forward to participating in this Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative.

“Our extensive global freight network, expertise, dedicated people and services will play an important role in ensuring the successful shipment of Covid-19 vaccines with the highest priority and under the required strict conditions.”

Astral Aviation said it would prioritise shipments of vaccines and take measures such as temperature control and security, while also adding freighter capacity to routes where needed.

Astral Aviation chief executive Sanjeev Gadhia said: “We are truly honored to be selected by UNICEF to participate in the Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative, based on our track-record in performing humanitarian flights within Africa and the Middle East during the past twenty years.

“We will be placing our entire fleet of B747F, B767F, B727F, DC9F, CRJ-200, Fokker 50 and Fokker 27 on high priority, which is critical to the timely and secure delivery of vaccines and critical supplies, as we consider it our moral-obligation to ensure that no person in Africa is left-behind due to lack of aircraft capacity.”

Richard Forson, president and chief executive of Cargolux, said: “Cargolux has extensive experience in the handling of healthcare and pharmaceutical goods as well as a strong commitment to supporting humanitarian causes. This initiative is fully aligned with the airline’s values and it was therefore natural for us to take part in this project. We look forward to leveraging our expertise in the field to provide seamless and secure transport for these life-saving products.”

Emirates SkyCargo said it had signed an agreement with UNICEF to prioritise the transport of Covid-19 vaccines, essential medicines, medical devices and other critical supplies to help fight the pandemic.

Nabil Sultan, Emirates divisional senior vice president, cargo, said: “Every single day counts in the fight against Covid-19 and the sooner that communities can have access to Covid-19 vaccines, the sooner they can curb the spread of the virus and get back on their feet.

“As a global player flying to more than 130 destinations, Emirates SkyCargo has been committed to the fight against the pandemic from the very early stages and we have rolled out a number of initiatives to expedite the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines through Dubai, starting with our GDP certified dedicated airside hub.”

Etihad Cargo said it will collaborate with UNICEF’s global freight forwarder network, including with regard to services for countries with no commercial access. Services offered include high loading priority for vaccines and essential humanitarian supplies, shipment security and controlled cool chain monitoring and adjusting Etihad Cargo’s cold chain capacity to meet UNICEF’s forecast requirements.

Martin Drew, senior vice president of sales and cargo, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “Etihad Cargo will leverage its IATA CEIV-certified PharmaLife specialised pharmaceutical and healthcare product for the transportation of pharmaceuticals under temperature control which, under the membership of Abu Dhabi’s The HOPE Consortium, is already offering a complete supply chain solution to aid global Covid-19 vaccine distribution.” 

Tewolde  GebreMariam,  group  chief executive  of  Ethiopian  Airlines, remarked: “It gives us a great pleasure to have partnered with UNICEF in ensuring the Safe, timely and efficient transportation of life-saving supplies globally, thereby supporting access to essential services for children and families. We have invested heavily on our cargo capabilities and launched a new cold chain cargo transport equipped with simultaneous cabin temperature controlling system to efficiently distribute life-saving supplies across the world and we will discharge the global mission.”

IAG Cargo said its London Heathrow hub remains the only airside facility to be GDP certified and WDA licensed by the UK’s Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). In Madrid, Constant Climate shipments benefit from a brand-new pharmaceutical centre (GDP certified) dedicated to processing temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products.

John Cheetham, chief commercial officer at IAG Cargo, said:We have many years’ experience flying vaccines and bio-science products around the world, delivering them safely to where they need to be.

“We’ve already transported over 1m doses of the Covid-19 vaccine across the world, alongside transporting medical equipment, other types of vaccines, Covid-19 testing kits and PPE, as well as continuing to transport everyday products the world needs. Our hub facilities are world-class, and our global team of Constant Climate professionals are specialists in their field and have been preparing for this operation for some time.”

Lufthansa Cargo said that its operations would be strengthened by the loading capacities of available flights of Brussels Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Eurowings and Lufthansa.

Lufthansa Cargo chief executive Peter Gerber said: “Airfreight is essential for the fast and reliable intercontinental distribution of highly sensitive pharmaceuticals. With its flexible freighter network, Lufthansa Cargo is not only strengthening international supply routes and takes responsibility to overcome this pandemic.

“By supporting the UNICEF Initiative we are also contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal ’Good Health & Wellbeing’ which we have committed to.”

Qatar Airways Cargo said it had signed an MoU for a five-year period to support UNICEF’s Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative. Through this initiative, Qatar Airways Cargo will work closely with UNICEF and its freight forwarders to prioritise

the transport of vaccines, medicines, medical devices and critical supplies utilising its extensive global network and capacity.

Guillaume Halleux, Chief Officer Cargo said, “The logistics around the transportation of these shipments is complex and being at the forefront of time and temperature-sensitive transportation, we understand the intricacies of a seamless cool chain and the criticality of transporting COVID-19 related shipments on priority. We are glad to join hands with UNICEF and support them, helping transport vital supplies to impacted regions and communities worldwide. We remain committed and resilient in the fight against the pandemic and together with UNICEF, we will ensure the safe, timely and efficient transportation of these life-saving supplies.”

“Saudia Cargo is ready and on full power to operate for UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative and take part in this global vaccines delivery effort through Saudia Cargo’s wide range of destinations and connection points. We fully understand our role and will work hand in hand with UNICEF and ensure the maximum global reach for the vaccines. Safe, timely and efficient transportation of these supplies is paramount and we are sure our air freighters will expertly get the job done,” said Saudia Cargo, Omar Hariri.

“Delivery of these life-saving vaccines is a monumental and complex undertaking, considering the sheer volumes that need to be transported, the cold chain requirements, the number of expected deliveries and the diversity of routes” said Etleva Kadilli, Director of UNICEF Supply Division.

“We are grateful to these airlines for joining forces with the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to support the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines.”

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