Asia’s flag carriers fly in life-saving vaccines

Cathay Pacific flew in HK’s first million doses of Sinovac’s vaccine on Friday, whilst MASKargo transported over 300,000 of Pfizer’s variant to Malaysia.


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Accompanied by media frenzy, more vaccine shipments are slowly making their way to Asia brought in by flag carriers, as Malaysia Airlines’ cargo unit MASkargo successfully flew in the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines to Malaysia on 21 February.

An Airbus 330-300 converted for cargo flight with One World livery delivered over 300,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. A second batch of the same vaccines will arrive on 26 February, and then at fortnightly intervals.

The arrival of vaccines came earlier than expected and moves up the inoculation drive in the country two days to Wednesday instead of the original schedule of 26 February.

Also read: SIA delivers more vaccine jabs to Singapore

Given the highly coordinated transport and security protocols needed to ensure safe delivery of vaccines, MASKargo said it conducted live simulations and dry runs with various vaccine types during its flights to ensure it could meet the different logistic requirements.

Malaysia has secured 32 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech, and has deals with other vaccine suppliers in UK, China and Russia. A bulk shipment from Chinese pharma manufacturer Sinovac is scheduled to be delivered on 27 February in Malaysia, pending approval from local regulators, Payload Asia learned.

In Hong Kong, flag carrier Cathay Pacific on Friday transported the first shipment of Sinovac’s vaccine. Flight CX391 from Beijing flew in a million doses of the variant which, compared to the Pfizer counterpart, only needs to maintain the vaccine temperature range of 2-8ºC. The flag carrier said the shipments were placed near the aircraft doors to prioritise for unloading.

Upon arrival, the aircraft was parked at the apron closest to its cargo terminal at Hong Kong airport to reduce the towing time between the parking bay and the cargo terminal.

DHL, which appears to have been involved in both deliveries to Malaysia and Hong Kong, said in a statement that a key challenge of transporting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines was the requirement for low temperatures of -80ºC to minus -60ºC.

Now new data has been submitted to the US FDA demonstrating the stability of the same vaccine when stored at -25°C to -15°C. This would probably come as good news as this temperature range is more commonly met with pharma freezers and refrigerators, unlike the previous temp requirements which entailed the use of customised thermal containers and regular refills of dry ice during transport.

Hong Kong is set to start its vaccination exercise for its residents on 26 February, whilst Malaysia will begin earlier with its national immunisation programme on 24 February.



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