Shipping a coronavirus vaccine around the world will be the "largest transport challenge ever," according to the airline industry. Credit: Shutterstock.

The majestic “Berlin Airlift” lasted for more than a year and carried more than 2.3 million tons of cargo into West Berlin — a huge allied success that riled Kremlin hard-liners to no end.

At the time, it was a major undertaking, but it pales in comparison to shipping a coronavirus vaccine around the world in this era — the “largest transport challenge ever” according to the airline industry.

According to a report from BBC News, the equivalent of 8,000 Boeing 747s will be needed, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said.

There is no Covid-19 vaccine yet — Oxford University’s vaccine candidate is in late stage trials, while a vaccine candidate being developed by Imperial College London is in early stage trials — but IATA is already working with airlines, airports, global health bodies and drug firms on a global airlift plan.

The distribution programme assumes only one dose per person is needed, BBC reported.

“Safely delivering Covid-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry. But it won’t happen without careful advance planning. And the time for that is now,” said IATA’s chief executive Alexandre de Juniac.

While airlines have been shifting their focus onto delivering cargo during the severe downturn in passenger flights, shipping vaccines is far more complex, BBC reported.

Not all planes are suitable for delivering vaccines as they need a typical temperature range of between 2 and 8 C for transporting drugs. Some vaccines may require freezing temperatures which would exclude more aircraft.

Not all planes are suitable for delivering vaccines as they need a typical temperature range of between 2 and 8 C for transporting drugs. Credit: Cargolux.

“We know the procedures well. What we need to do is scale them up to the magnitude that will be required,” added Glyn Hughes, the industry body’s head of cargo, BBC reported.

Flights to certain parts of the world, including some areas of South East Asia, will be critical as they lack vaccine-production capabilities, he added.

Distributing a vaccine across Africa would be “impossible” right now IATA says given the lack of cargo capacity, size of the region and the complexities of border crossings, BBC reported.

Transportation will need “almost military precision” and will require cool facilities across a network of locations where the vaccine will be stored.

IATA has urged governments to begin careful planning now to ensure they are fully prepared once vaccines are approved and available for distribution, BBC reported.

Along with making sure they are handled and transported at controlled temperatures, security is another issue.

“Vaccines will be highly valuable commodities. Arrangements must be in place to keep ensure that shipments remain secure from tampering and theft,” added IATA.

Meanwhile, MI5 Security Service Director General Ken McCallum told Reuters this week there were a range of threats against the vaccine development work.

“Clearly, the global prize of having a first useable vaccine against this deadly virus is a large one, so we would expect that a range of other parties around the globe would be quite interested in that research,” McCallum said.

“I guess there are two bits we are on the lookout for: attempts either to steal unique intellectual property that’s been generated in that research, or potentially to fiddle with the data,” he said.

“And then the second risk we’ve got to be alive to is the possibility that the research is still high integrity and sound, but that somebody tries to sow doubt about its integrity.”

Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said in July that hackers backed by the Russian state were trying to steal Covid-19 vaccine and treatment research from academic and pharmaceutical institutions around the world, Reuters reported.

More than 150 potential vaccines are being developed and tested globally to stop the Covid-19 pandemic, with 42 in human trials, according to the World Health Organization.

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