UNICEF’s Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to support the COVAX Facility, a global initiative to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, is a programme to be applauded. It aims to deliver doses of the vaccines, and other critical medical supplies, to 145 countries to inoculate 3% of their populations initially.

Several airlines are working with UNICEF to prioritise the delivery of vaccines over other cargo and adding additional capacity where needed. Large commercial operators and specialist cargo carriers play a crucial role in the distribution of vaccines and contribute to efforts to ease travel restrictions and so increase commercial air travel. Efficient, timely and safe deliveries of the vaccines are critical to global reopening and growth in scheduled flights, passenger numbers and longer term revenue.

Larger airlines as well as regional carriers are essential players in the vaccine supply chain, leveraging their expertise in temperature controlled deliveries and cold-chain management. By putting any spare capacity to use, and by increasing coordination and cooperation, the operators are contributing not only to vaccination efforts but to the industry’s recovery as well.

The programme will be particularly important to regions where the large vaccine orders seen in Europe and the US have not been possible and where land-based cold-chain management is not straightforward. In Africa, flag carrier Ethiopian Airlines is taking part in the initiative as is Kenya’s specialist cargo operator Astral Aviation which is putting its extensive experience and existing intra-African network to use.