Shipping a coronavirus vaccine around the world will be the “largest transport challenge ever” according to the airline industry.
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, 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.
“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.
Not all planes are suitable for delivering vaccines as they need a typical temperature range of between 2 and 8C for transporting drugs. Some vaccines may require frozen temperatures which would exclude more aircraft.
“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.
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.