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It’s started: forwarders are beginning to feel the pain as vaccine distribution begins – they are getting bumped from booked flights.
“Singapore Airlines has been loading vaccines in Amsterdam for the past few days,” claimed one European air freight forwarder, “I keep getting freight offloaded. It’s started.”
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which was today licensed by the UK, is made in Belgium as well as in Michigan, Massachusetts and St. Louis in the US, while BioNTech was reportedly considering sites in Germany too.
The most temperature-sensitive of the vaccines available so far, it one must be kept ultra cold – at -70C – but, noted IATA Cargo chief Glyn Hughes last week, it’s actually easier to transport than ‘fridge-cold’ vaccines.
“Pfizer’s packaging includes thermal and external coolants. It is self-contained and sealed,” he explained.
The distribution of Covid-19 vaccines is going to be complex, with strings of networks reaching around the world, and depending on manufacturing sites and government orders. Along with Russian vaccine Sputnik V, there are five potential Chinese-made vaccines as well as the much-publicised Moderna and AstraZeneca options.
Many are already being carried. Turkish Airlines Cargo said last month it was flying a Chinese vaccine from Beijing to Brazil and AirBridgeCargo has started delivering China’s CanSino version in partnership with UPS and pharma logistics company Marken.
And this morning, Alibaba’s Cainiao Smart Logistics Network said it was partnering with Ethiopian Airlines to send temperature-controlled medicines from Shenzhen to Africa twice a week.
The new commodity isn’t the only Covid-related shipment to take up air freight capacity, however. One forwarder noted “huge tonnages of testing kits for Covid-19 are heading to the EU from Korea with top priority, mainly to Frankfurt – over 1,000 tonnes are going on direct freighter services to all EU/UK lanes in December”.
Another forwarder added: “We are having issues and seeing massively high rates on the westbound from Korea.”
The Korean testing kits are also facing capacity competition, from automotive parts as both Hyundai and Kia are sending shipments to Vienna and Frankfurt, that were originally destined to travel by sea. The forwarder said ocean capacity was “full until January”, impacting air freight.
“Direct airlines keep increasing the rates depending on space availability. Deferred airlines will follow that tactic.”
One forwarder added: “There is loads of negative stuff going on. Or, challenging, I should say. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, it becomes tragic.”