Virgin Atlantic says its ready to fly Covid-19 vaccines to destinations on its global network after news last week that at least one pharmaceutical company could have a vaccine ready for distribution as early as next month.
The airline said it had introduced a new ‘pharma secure service’ to ‘ensure the safety and security of this valuable cargo’.
This includes a 24/7 support team, automatic live status updates, proactive service recovery and periodical integrity checks, temperature-controlled facilities and a dedicated booking team.
Last week, pharmaceutical firm PfizerBioNTech announced that early results from phase three of testing of its Covid-19 vaccine shows it is effective in 90% of cases.
However, the drug – being manufactured at sites in Antwerp in Belgium and Michigan in the US – must be stored and transported at temperatures of -70C (100F) to maintain optimal efficacy.
This week it was announced that a second pharmaceutical firm, Moderna, has a vaccine which might be 94.5% effective. Crucially, this could be easier to distribute as it will last in normal fridges for up to 30 days and at room temperature for up to 12 hours.
The UK government has suggested the NHS will be ready to roll out a vaccination programme as early as December if regulators approve one or both drugs.
However, some have suggested importing the vaccine from Europe could prove problematic, especially if containers get snarled up in a backlog of lorries trying to clear new customs arrangements in place at ports in southern England from 1 January, following the end of the UK’s transition agreement with the EU.
Virgin Atlantic cargo MD Dominic Kennedy said:”We look forward to playing a part in supporting the Covid-19 recovery by transporting crucial vaccines and pharmaceutical products to the UK and around the world on our global network, ensuring swift access to vaccines for the public as they become available.
“Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Virgin Atlantic Cargo has played a vital role keeping global supply chains running and transporting essential goods around the world. They are agile and continue to innovate, bringing in new services such as Pharma Secure to respond to customer demand.
“It is a testament to the hard work of our teams that we have completely re-engineered our cargo business into a successful freight-only operation offering cargo-only services and charters for the first time in our history, enabling businesses to re-establish trade routes and transport critical supplies around the world.”
Virgin Atlantic flew its first cargo only flight on 21 March and has continued to fly over 190 flights a week during the pandemic to new and existing destinations.
It operated cargo-only flights from Shanghai to London to bring over four million tonnes of medical equipment, supplies and PPE into the UK.