an airplane wing with a logo on it

There are a few questions on every travelers mind, but two big ones. When will the country I want to visit be open to me? And, when will covid-19 vaccines be making their way to the general public? If air cargo is any indication, perhaps the answer to both questions is sooner than you think.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed this week that it’s already currently assisting in the distribution of the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine across the USA.

Now, the Wall Street Journal claims that on Black Friday, November 27th, 2020, United Airlines became one of the first to actually load doses of the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine into the belly of its planes.

The US has over 100 million doses of the Pfizer x BioNTech vaccine on order, with options for multiples more, and the vaccine is already being distributed from a variety of regional US hubs in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as in Belgium and Germany.

The drugs are being readied into these regional storage locations for immediate use from the word “go”, ahead of an expected emergency approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In other words, if an emergency FDA approval is granted, it won’t take long for some doses to make their way into communities.

an airplane with a logo on it

Some vaccines, such as the Pfizer x BioNTech vaccine, require cold storage, which makes logistics a greater challenge than usual, but the extremely high effective rate in stopping covid-19 cases makes it incredibly sought after nonetheless.

This early distribution is said to be a trial run, testing storage capacity and efficiency in reaching difficult areas ahead of the largest ramp up in production over the coming months. In Europe, Africa, South America, Asia and Pacific, plans are much the same.

Pfizer and BioNTech already scaled up distribution centers in Germany and across the USA, and AstraZeneca is doing the same in key markets with its ‘Oxford’ vaccine.

Airlines are said to secretly, or not so secretly now, already be moving vaccine doses from the various vaccine candidates into key global positions, so that once emergency approvals are granted in any given country, limited stockpiles will already exist, or at least the facilities to create them.

It’s not going to happen overnight, but many in the pharmaceutical and government world tell GSTP “good news” on timing is being downplayed to temper expectations, in case any unforeseeable hiccups arise. In a year rife with bad news, it makes sense.

a plane engine on the ground

Cargo Saves Airlines

Despite record lows in air passenger travel, airlines have scraped by in 2020 on cargo, and pretty much cargo alone. Cargo became an essential service keeping global supply chains in tact, and with the excess demand, airlines have managed to turn a profit on some flights without passengers on board at all.

In many cases, it saw airlines flying essential cargo, including PPE, to new destinations it’ll never-ever ferry passengers. Cathay Pacific, for example, flies a Boeing 777-300ER 3x weekly to Pittsburgh. Cargo missions now go critical, as airlines play an even more vital role in the pandemic, aiming to bring widespread covid-19 vaccine availability to end it.

Global Airlines including Emirates, Virgin Atlantic and United were quick to go on the offensive, creating new cargo “products” for pharma companies, designed specifically for the use of transporting key pharmaceuticals, mostly vaccines. Moving doses of the vaccines around the world is seriously big business.

Some airlines modified cargo areas on planes and in storage warehouses to create greater temperature controls ideal for vaccine doses, and dedicated sections of each with the highest loading and unloading priorities.

If you thought a Sheikh’s Ferrari was VIP cargo, you haven’t seen the red carpets airlines are rolling out for vaccine doses.

a group of palm trees against a blue sky

Every Dose Matters For Travel

Every risk group vaccinated brings the overall risk of “worst case” covid-19 scenarios down. As those scenarios become less severe, protocols and theatre around safety can also slowly start to roll back.

Even if you don’t immediately receive a dose, the world, and travel with it, will still slowly be returning back to normal, as other people do.

Early vaccine doses for essential workers, healthcare professionals and the most at risk groups are said to potentially begin within weeks, or a period shorter than two months in many countries, including the USA and UK. Widespread dose availability may not be seen until mid, or even late 2021, but don’t be surprised if time tables are brought up if emergency approvals are indeed granted.

As risk factors go down, countries will once again look to safely open their doors and welcome international visitors, and eventually, some day in the future, we might not need to wear masks on planes. Until that day, stay safe, be well, and smile when you see a plane in the skies, because it might be carrying the very thing that gets us to a better day.

HT: Paddle Your Own Kanoo

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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