Abu Dhabi is underway addressing a key problem around vaccine distribution for tackling Covid-19. The vaccine hub us stockpiling vaccines for nations that are lacking required advanced refrigeration facilities.
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, for instance, requires temperature of -70C. Approximately 3 billion people is living in areas which is not equipped maintain a vaccine “cold chain”. This raises fears that many people won’t get vaccinated.
Hope Consortium, Abu Dhabi based storage and delivery hub is now aiming to address the issue. The consortium, that can handle tens of millions of vaccines at a single time, will store vaccines and deliver required batches through Etihad and freight forwarders on the ground.
“The way this works is you can imagine you have a leading vaccine supplier, say in China, and you have a country in Africa that requires two million vaccines,” said Robert Sutton, head of logistics cluster at Abu Dhabi Ports.
“But maybe they only have a cold chain capacity for 100,000 of those,” he said.
The consortium will collect the vaccines in China, coordinating the delivery of the entire order of two million doses into Abu Dhabi.
Mr. Sutton said, “We would store the majority of the inventory here because of the limited cold chain capacity at the destination. Then we would move through the volume when they are safely able to handle it in the country and monitor the uptake of that volume and replenish it as required.”
The move comes as countries are facing fresh round of lockdowns as cases are seeing massive surge across the globe. Most of the nations are in a rampant mode to vaccinate as many people as possible to enable easing of pressure on healthcare framework.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is developed using new technology called mRNA and through a part of genetic code, it trains the body to fight Covid-19. It is unlike the traditional vaccines that use killed or weakened virus. But under inadequate freezing temperature mRNA can break apart.
Abu Dhabi Ports is one of five partners involved in the Consortium. The others are: the Department of Health Abu Dhabi, Etihad Cargo, Rafed, part of ADQ, and SkyCell. The consortium in order to expand its distribution has collaborated freight forwarding companies Agility Logistics, Aramex, Hellman Worldwide Logistics, and Kuehne+Nagel. Its facilities in Abu Dhabi can store up to 70m vaccines with temperature requirements of 2 to 8 C, including vaccines produced by Sinopharm and Oxford/AstraZeneca, which will form the bulk of Africa’s vaccine needs. It can also handle 3m and 5m vaccines requiring ultra-cold storage down to -80°C through a “freezer farm” which has 50 units in its facility in Abu Dhabi. Every unit is approximately five times the size of a standard freezer, has multiple compartments, allowing the vaccines storage at multiple ultra-cold temperatures, from -80C and above.
“It’s connected digitally to our alarm system, so we are able to recognise and act against any deviations in temperature. And it’s fully monitored 24/7,” said Mr Sutton.
UAE will begin producing the Sinopharm vaccine under licence from the Chinese drug maker later this year, aimed to meet the anticipated local and global vaccine demand.
Prof Ugur Sahin, whose BioNTech company developed vaccine along with Pfizer, said that modified future versions of vaccine might not need such cold temperatures for storage. “We’ve started, for example, to supply vaccines to Mexico,” he said. “Mexico is not one of the poorest countries but it shows that it is possible because, at the end of the day, it’s just a box with dry ice, and dry ice transportation has been available for 50 years.”