Emirates ferries virus jabs as UAE seeks to be global hub of vaccine delivery

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Nevin Al Sukari - Abu Dhabi - Workers unload vaccine shipment from an Emirates jet.

Gulf Today, Staff Reporter

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to clobber the aviation industry, the UAE-based Emirates is ferrying around the very substance it hopes will get passengers back into its seats.

The belly of the Emirates plane that touched down in on Sunday from Brussels was stuffed with precious cargo: tens of thousands of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

 

Emirates already has delivered millions of doses to Latin America, South Africa and Egypt from major manufacturing hubs in India and elsewhere.

 

With 15,000 square metres of refrigerated storage space, the sprawling facility can help maintain the required temperature controls for two of the leading COVID-19 vaccines that use the new vaccine technology messenger RNA, or mRNA.

 

Emiratesvaccine-cargoA worker takes away a vaccine container from an Emirates plane. AP

 

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, reported as being 95 per cent effective, must be preserved at the frigid temperature of negative 70 Celsius.

 

The arrival was part of an effort by the Middle East's biggest airline to pivot from shuttling people to shipping cargo - and grabbing a central role in the global vaccine delivery race.

 

Over the weekend, workers scurried around the tarmac at the Dubai International Airport, unloading several aluminum containers crammed with vaccine vials and dry ice into a vast florescent-lit cargo terminal.

  

The key transit hub, previously used for the global shipment of pharmaceuticals, is now at the center of a growing vaccine supply network based in the United Arab Emirates.

 

Emirates-cargovaccineA worker takes out a vaccine container from the belly of an Emirates jet. AP

  

On the one hand, the UAE is accelerating efforts to import vaccines despite supply lags.

  

The country, which boasts the world’s second-fastest inoculation drive behind Israel, relies most on a vaccine made by state-backed Chinese firm Sinopharm.

  

It also offers residents a variety of other choices, including Pfizer, Russia’s Sputnik V and most recently AstraZeneca-Oxford University’s jab made in India.

 

Emirates also is assembling a wide-ranging supply chain across the world, catering particularly to countries in Africa and the Middle East that lack the proper infrastructure to store and transport the shots.

  

Vaccine inequality has become a growing concern as wealthy countries vacuum up the lion’s share of doses, leaving poorer ones even farther behind in combating the public health and economic effects of the pandemic.

 

Earlier this month, Dubai’s international port operator DP World and Emirates announced the creation of a "vaccine logistics alliance,” which plans to move millions more doses around the world via the company’s vast network of ports and Dubai’s airport, a crucial east-west transit point.

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