India’s Civil Aviation Ministry has asked the country’s aviation industry to prepare for a vaccine rollout. Transporting the vaccine is a difficult task, requiring airlines, airports, and ground handling teams to work together. As India nears its first vaccine doses reaching the population, the industry must be ready.
In a statement seen by Indian Express, the Civil Aviation Secretary, Pradeep Singh Kharola, called on the industry to begin preparing for the nearing vaccine rollout. He said,
“All the main stakeholders — airports, airlines and ground handlers — have been alerted and asked to draw their plans. The exact SOPs will be formulated with the Ministry of Health and Department of Pharmaceuticals when we know the exact requirements of the vaccine — what precautions have to be taken, how it has to be transported and what other measures are required.”
Plans will likely include every company’s capacity to carry vaccines, cold-chain facilities required, and any extra resources. While a lot depends on the specific vaccine, general facilities will need to be prepared very soon.
In the coming weeks, the government will layout the formal procedure for handling and transporting vaccines. India is yet to approve any COVID-19 vaccines, with the likeliest candidate being the Oxford-AstraZeneca one.
India’s vaccine rollout
The most important part of transporting COVID-19 vaccines is maintaining an end-to-end cold chain. India has a few distinct advantages in this process for several reasons. First, the most likely vaccine to be approved first is the one that is made by Oxford and AstraZeneca, which only requires fridge temperatures (2-8°C).
This separates the vaccine from the Pfizer and Moderna ones, which are being transported globally already, and needs to be kept at -70°C. Secondly, this vaccine is being manufactured in India, allowing shorter domestic flights. The production facility is located in Pune, India, a well-connected domestic airport.
Most countries are currently flying long-haul flights to bring Pfizer and Moderna the vaccines from Europe and the US. Airlines in the US are also transporting the vaccine domestically right now. The UK’s approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine today could mean India is only days from its own rollout.
Hit the ground running
As millions worldwide begin receiving their first doses, India has a huge task ahead of itself. India plans to provide anywhere from 600 to 800 million doses in the next six to eight months, according to Times of India. Approval for the vaccine could come as soon as next week, which means airlines must be ready at short notice.
Almost 50 million shots are already waiting for transportation, which means the process could begin extremely soon for airlines. Transporting the vaccine will undoubtedly be the biggest mission for the aviation industry this year and the next.
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