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AirBridge Cargo transports first shipment of Chinese COVID vaccine

UPS Healthcare subsidiary manages logistics for CanSino shipment

A temperature-controlled container with pharmaceutical products being loaded on an AirBridgeCargo 747 freighter. (Photo: Volga-Dnepr Group)

Russian freighter operator AirBridgeCargo has delivered its first shipment of China’s COVID-19 vaccine under the logistics guidance of UPS Marken (NYSE: UPS), the clinical supply chain subsidiary of UPS Healthcare.

AirBridgeCargo, part of the Volga-Dnepr Group, said Monday it transported 6,000 doses of the Ad5-nCoV vaccine made by CanSino Biologics from Beijing to an undisclosed destination for use in clinical trials in various countries. The vaccine is stable at temperature ranges between 35.6 and 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 8 degrees Celsius).

The shipment weighed 880 pounds and was packed in insulated boxes and transported in a standard, half-sized lower-deck container, according to Volga-Dnepr.

UPS Marken specializes in storing and distributing biological samples and medicines for clinical trials, including direct-to-patient deliveries and related devices.

Volga-Dnepr, like many airlines and logistics companies, has spent months preparing to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines, several of which are close to receiving regulatory approval for emergency use. 

The Moscow-based company established a dedicated vaccine task force to follow global vaccine development trends and implement changes to existing processes to ensure safe handling of vaccines at required temperatures. Other vaccines in trial stages require storage at minus 4 degrees F (minus 20 C) to as cold as minus 94 degrees F or more.

Volga-Dnepr group has been busy this year moving medical supplies to combat the coronavirus pandemic, including personal protective equipment, as well as plastic vials, syringes and large pieces of equipment for vaccine production. The company is certified by the International Air Transport Association as meeting the highest industry standards for transporting temperature-controlled products for the pharmaceutical industry. Earlier this month, ABC signed an agreement to lease the Sonoco ThermoSafe insulated unit load device for efficient loading of airfreight shipments that must be maintained in the 35 to 46 degree F temperature range.

Volga-Dnepr has also conducted temperature mapping of all freighters within its fleet, exploring various scenarios for vaccine delivery onboard its Boeing 747, 737, 777 freighters, as well as its super-size An-124 and Ilyushin-76 aircraft that are typically used for oversize shipments such as machinery, vehicles, live animals and engines.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that United Airlines began operating charter flights to position doses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for quick distribution if the shots are approved by regulators.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]