Air India Carries The First COVID-19 Vaccines To Delhi

Air India has transported the first shipment of vaccine to New Delhi from a production facility in Pune on Thursday. Air India could be the sole airline to transport vaccines during the first phase of inoculation, targeting frontline workers. The flight is the first of many in the coming months as India readies to vaccinate hundreds of millions.

Air India A320neo
The first shipment of vaccines has reached Delhi onboard an Air India A320. Photo: Airbus

First of many

Thursday marked an important milestone for India as the first vaccine doses arrived from the Serum Insitute of India’s (SII) facility in Pune to New Delhi. The vaccines flew on Air India flight AI 850, which departed Pune at 18:40 local time. Data from shows that the flight landed one hour and forty minutes later at 20:30 local time.

Air India 850 first vaccine
The flight spent over an hour taxiing after landing in Delhi, according to flight data. Map:

While the aircraft landed just before 20:30, it continued to taxi for over an hour on the ground after coming to a stop at 23:11 local time. According to government sources in the Economic Times (ET), the number of vaccine doses being flown is currently unknown. India plans to administer the first dose of the vaccine on Wednesday, January 13th.

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Air India to fly the vaccine

With the vaccination drive less than a week away, Air India could get the contract to fly the vaccine during the first inoculation phase. The first phase will see 20 million frontline workers receiving the shot across the country, requiring 40 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Anonymous government sources, speaking to ET, have reportedly said, “All details on vaccine transportation are being worked out but Air India is likely to be used to ferry vaccines in the first phase.”

Air India A320
Air India is reportedly going to be the only airline transporting the shots in the first phase of vaccination. Photo: Getty Images

If confirmed, this mission would be a massive undertaking for the struggling airline. Air India will likely use its A320s on the domestic routes from Pune since it does not have any freighter aircraft. The coming months could see more airlines join the race to carry the vaccine as more doses become available.

Vaccine hub

India is the world’s vaccine manufacturing hub, producing nearly 60% of all vaccines globally. The country could reprise a similar role with COVID-19, as SII plans to make nearly 100 million doses of the vaccine each month from March onwards, according to The Hindu. Once domestic demand is met, we could see India become a major hub for vaccine distribution globally.

The Oxford vaccine does not require ultra-cold chains and can be transported at fridge temperatures. Photo: Getty Images

While the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require ultracold chains (-70°C), the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine can be transported at fridge temperatures (2-8°C). This means the vaccine is much easier to carry around the globe and can easily reach areas with smaller facilities. With India’s rollout just days away now, we can expect a lot more news about vaccine transport plans.

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