Transporting the COVID-19 vaccine, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is getting ready

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We are all eagerly awaiting the COVID-19 vaccine. The Dutch government recently announced that the first vaccinations will probably take place in the Netherlands starting in January. But how does the vaccine actually get from the manufacturer to the Municipal Health Services (GGD) or hospital? And the Netherlands isn’t the only country that needs to be supplied with vaccines, so does the rest of the world. That is why, at Schiphol, we have been preparing for months to ensure everything is ready for transportation of the COVID-19 vaccines. 

The majority of the vaccine manufacturers are located in the United States, Europe or China. There is a good chance that the vaccine you will soon receive was not transported by air, but by truck. Pfizer’s vaccine, for example, comes from Germany and can therefore simply be transported over the road to all the places in the Netherlands where it is needed. For large parts of Asia, South America, Africa and Australia this is obviously a bit more difficult. Those vaccines will need to be transported by plane.

From manufacturer to hospital 
At the manufacturer, the vaccines – or parts of the vaccines, for example, just the needles – go into trucks. They will be driven to the airport and will be loaded onto the plane. The question currently remains: how should the vaccines be transported? It is known for instance that the Pfizer vaccine must be transported at -80 degrees Celsius. For the Moderna vaccine, the temperature should be -20, meanwhile, the University of Oxford vaccine requires transportation at room temperature.

That obviously means transportation needs to be thought through carefully. A temperature of -80 means there should be a lot of dry ice in the container that is being used to transport the vaccines, leaving less room for actual vaccines on the plane. But if a vaccine can be kept at room temperature, it can simply be stored in boxes and on pallets or even on aeroplane seats. Once it arrives at the next airport it can be loaded onto trucks to be taken to local hospitals or Municipal Health Services (GGD).

Better together 
IATA (International Air Transport Organization) has calculated that the distribution of a single dose of vaccines to 7.8 billion citizens of the world requires 8,000 747 cargo aircraft. But several vaccines, including Pfizer’s, require two shots. So you can imagine what an enormous operation this is for air freight. That is why we at Schiphol, together with Air Cargo Nederland and Air France KLM Martinair Cargo have started the ‘Vaccines Gateway Netherlands’ task force.

The saying goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. That is why we are collaborating with some 60 companies and organizations to make sure the transportation of the vaccines by air goes as smoothly as possible. You may be thinking, why would you need 60 companies. But there is a lot to consider when it comes to transportation by air. For instance, customs must approve all shipments of vaccines and security must ensure nothing happens to the vaccines. Eindhoven and Maastricht Airport are also part of the task force. In case there is no space at Schiphol, the vaccines can also be transported via other Dutch airports.

Vaccines for everyone 
Ultimately, this collaboration will not only get us ahead, but it will also make us go faster. By making plans for all possible scenarios for the transport of the vaccine, all parties involved can be prepared. That is how we can ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine will be transported around the world as quickly as possible. So that not only you can get vaccinated, but if you live in Tanzania, Argentina or Indonesia you can too.

10 December 2020

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