Airlines warn travel restrictions may challenge COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Coronavirus Vaccine

Photo: Getty

MONTREAL (NewsNation Now) ‚ÄĒ Air cargo operators may struggle to distribute new COVID-19 vaccines effectively unless pandemic travel restrictions are eased, according to the International Air Transport Association.

The warning came in vaccine transport guidelines issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which is suggesting governments should replace travel curbs and quarantines with testing.

“If borders remain closed,¬†travel¬†curtailed, fleets grounded and employees furloughed, the capacity to deliver life-saving¬†vaccines will be very much compromised,” the IATA stated in the document.

IATA represents 290 airlines in 120 countries with the mission: “advocating for the interests of airlines across the globe, we challenge unreasonable rules and charges, hold regulators and governments to account, and strive for sensible regulation.”

‚ÄúDelivering 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,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA‚Äôs Director General and CEO. “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.”

Moderna Inc said on Monday its experimental COVID-19 vaccine had proved 94.5% effective in a clinical trial, a week after rival drugmaker Pfizer reported 90% efficacy findings for its vaccine. Once approved, both vaccines are likely to require transport and storage well below freezing, posing logistical hurdles.

Widespread grounding of passenger flights that normally carry 45% of global cargo in their holds has taken out capacity, thinning the air freight network and driving up prices.

Existing immunization campaigns have struggled with the partial shutdown. The World Health Organization and UNICEF “have already reported severe difficulties in maintaining their planned¬†vaccine¬†programmes during the COVID-19 crisis due, in part, to limited air connectivity,” IATA said.

Vaccines will need to be shipped to developing countries reliant on passenger services for cargo, IATA’s head of cargo Glyn Hughes told Reuters. Even in industrialized states,¬†vaccine¬†dispersal may be a tighter bottleneck than production, requiring shipments to secondary airports on passenger jets.

In preparation for the challenge of mass vaccine distribution, governments should move to reopen key passenger routes backed by robust testing, the airline body argues.

“There are several more months for governments to go through the planning cycle,” Hughes said, leaving enough time to “get passenger networks safely resumed, looking at safe travel corridors (and) mutual acceptance of testing procedures.”

Latest coronavirus headlines

Reuters contributed to this report.

© 1998 - 2020 Nexstar Inc. | All Rights Reserved.