Dubai World Central Airport: The Perfect COVID-19 Vaccine Hub

In March, SkyCentral DWC was closed amid the impact of the pandemic. However, as the globe edges closer to an effective COVID-19 vaccine, the Dubai site has been reactivated to help distribute the potential solution. Simple Flying recently spoke with the head of global pharma sales for Emirates SkyCargo, Julian Sutch, about how the facility is preparing for the rollout of the vaccine.

Emirates SkyCentral
Staff members at DWC are being proactive ahead of the vaccine rollout. Photo: Emirates SkyCargo

Ready for the challenge

SkyCargo has a wealth of experience dealing with the shipping of vaccines. Sutch explained that some of the tonnage figures that will be moved for the upcoming vaccine are significant. Therefore, it made sense to reactivate the DWC facility due to the trained personnel and required equipment at the site.

Meanwhile, SkyCargo is in touch with the major stakeholders in the vaccine supply chain. The company has already worked with the likes of Serum Institute and GSK on vaccine projects. Therefore, it is familiar to with the process. However, this operation will be on a much larger scale.

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The right tools

Altogether, Sutch highlights that DWC will be the world’s largest airside vaccine hub. There will be 4,000 square meters of dedicated temperature control. Moreover, the site has a capacity of approximately 4,600 pallet locations.

Emirates SkyCargo
DWC is Good Distribution Practices (GDP) compliant, a quality system for warehouse and distribution centers dedicated to medicine. Photo: Emirates SkyCargo

The aircraft are also positioned only 30 or so meters away from the building. Sutch emphasizes that one of the most significant risks in the pharma supply chain is the ramp. Therefore, with planes parked nearby, the danger is dramatically reduced. Furthermore, the ventilated cool dollies equipped with temperature data loggers moving supplies between the aircraft and the facility ensure that the “cold chain” is kept as it should.

A careful process

Sutch further explained the features of keeping the vaccine cool. It’s a sensitive procedure that the facility is well-equipped for.

“We have 72 cool cells, which can actually be set to any temperature. So we’re hearing different things. Even though a lot of these vaccines will be actually kept at, let’s say, -70, degrees, the actual requirement of transport temperature will actually be 15 to 25. However, we’ve got other customers who will require a transport temperature of two to eight. So, we have the flexibility to change our cool cells to whatever temperature we need depending on the capacity or the need that’s coming in and out,” Sutch told Simple Flying.

“So, we have 72 cool cells, and then we also have five cool rooms, and they can also be set at any temperatures. It’s very flexible, that facility. If we have one customer that wants to take a whole cool room and it will be dedicated to them, they can do that. The whole point of this is it will be used as a cross-dock, okay, so as normal shipments do, they can fly through Dubai incredibly quickly. But I think one of the most important things is, we can bring, let’s say, a full 777-worth of vaccines into this facility, and then we can break that down and send out smaller shipments into the region.”

Emirates SkyCargo Plane
Emirates SkyCargo is connecting well within its network. Photo: Emirates SkyCargo

Global considerations

Sutch notes that destinations around the world also need to be ready. These locations need to ensure that they have the capacity to be able to take a full-plane-worth of vaccines, have the capability of keeping the product cool, and have the trucks to keep the operation moving. Nonetheless, DWC has the ability to bring in a full Boeing 777, break it down, and then send out smaller shipments to the surrounding region, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and even the rest of the world.

What are your thoughts about the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine? How do you feel about the preparation? Let us know what you think of the situation in the comment section.