Emirates diverts Shanghai-Dubai flight to Mumbai for first COVAX vaccine shipment
February 26, 2021: Emirates on Wednesday diverted a Shanghai-Dubai flight to Mumbai as a technical halt, within 15 minutes of request from UNICEF, exclusively to carry the very first Covid-19 vaccine shipment under the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility, handled by Cargo Service Center at Mumbai International Airport.
February 26, 2021: The Middle Eastern carrier Emirates on Wednesday diverted a Shanghai-Dubai flight to Mumbai as a technical halt, within 15 minutes of request from UNICEF, exclusively to carry the very first Covid-19 vaccine shipment under the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility, handled by Cargo Service Center at Mumbai International Airport.
Thus on February 24, 2021, the West African Nation Ghana received 6,00,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII) at Kotoka International Airport, Accra.
This was revealed by Mounir Bouazar, global logistics lead for Covid-19 vaccines and related supplies at United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), while presenting a keynote at the Vaccine Logistics Virtual Summit hosted by Logistics Update Africa, a STAT Media Group publication.
“As there was no flight to Ghana we reached out to the targeted airline acknowledging that there was no specific solution from Mumbai to Ghana. And within 15 minutes they managed to divert a flight that was supposed to go from Shanghai to Dubai by making a technical stop in Mumbai exclusively for the vaccines, deliver them to consolidate in Dubai with our syringes and devices and then deliver it to Ghana,” Bouazar said at the virtual summit themed “Is Africa prepared to get the Covid-19 jab?” presented by AmerisourceBergen World Courier and supported by Astral Aviation.
This is the moment that the plane touched down and history was made, as the first 600,000 doses of #COVAX vaccines arrived in Africa at Kotoka International Airport, in Accra. The first of at least 2 billion doses to be supplied by COVAX in 2021: https://t.co/hFV3zscT80 pic.twitter.com/hpjIRGsFeX— Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (@gavi) February 24, 2021
He also noted that “We had the colleagues from the Serum Institute of India, Pune working through the weekend to pack the vaccines for Ghana and make sure that it available overnight, clear it for export and make it available for us on Tuesday. This is a record time. Normally such a procedure would take 4-5 days.”
Funded by rich western countries and as one of the pillars in Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, COVAX is an international initiative to ensure equal distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to every country in the world led by ‘Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance’, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and others.
On behalf of COVAX, UNICEF has already signed three agreements with Pfizer for the supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, Serum Institute of India to access two vaccines and AstraZeneca for their vaccines.
Bouazar said, “We have the extreme pleasure to deliver the very first shipment of Covid-19 vaccine to Accra, Ghana that was completed on February 24, 2021. Obviously, this is just a beginning. The role of UNICEF is that of a procurement coordinator or procurement agent in the COVAX facility.”
In February 2021, under the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative, 16 airlines signed agreements with UNICEF to support the prioritization of delivery of Covid-19 vaccines, essential medicines, medical devices and other critical supplies.
Bouazar reasoned that the initiative is due to the limited air freight capacity and the expected shortage in Covid-19 vaccines similar to the experience of shortage in personal protection equipment last year. He said, “In the first half of 2021 there will be a limited quantity of Covid-19 vaccines available compared to the demand from various countries. There will be huge pressure on manufacturers. The goal is not to serve specific countries with all their needs but to serve them proportionally in a fair and equitable manner. That poses a significant logistics challenge as we will be dealing with many shipments with smaller quantities to 100+ countries in the first half of the year."