Sixty-three years after the Soviet Union took an early lead in the space race by launching Sputnik, the first Earth-orbiting satellite, Russia is in the middle of the COVID-19 vaccine race.
Last week, passenger carrier Aerolíneas Argentinas transported the first batch of 300,000 Sputnik V doses from Moscow to Buenos Aires on a cargo-only flight. The “V” stands for vaccine.
The Airbus A330-200 carried nine insulated containers with 59 cases of the two-dose vaccine, a representative for Sheremetyevo International Airport said in an email.
Argentina is scheduled to receive 10 million doses of the Russian-made vaccine, which needs to be maintained at minus 18 to minus 20 degrees Celsius — similar to the Moderna Inc. vaccine being distributed in the U.S. Shippers are using ice packs to keep Sputnik V at subfreezing temperatures.
Sheremetyevo warehouse operator Moscow Cargo kept the shipment in temperature-controlled holding cells before loading it on the Argentina Airlines flight. The Moscow Cargo terminal has 26 storage areas along the apron for temperature-sensitive and perishable goods.
Since November, the Moscow Cargo terminal has processed vaccines for air transport within Russia, as well as to Hungary, Serbia and Egypt. On domestic flights, the vaccine is mostly carried by Aeroflot and Rossiya Airlines, the airport authority said in the email.
Argentina is the first country in Latin America to officially authorize the use of Sputnik V vaccine, which was developed by the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology. The cost of one dose is less than $10 in international markets, according to the research institute.
Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, which is bankrolling development said it has received requests for more than 1.2 billion doses of Sputnik V vaccine came from more than 50 countries. Vaccine supplies for the global market will be produced by international partners in India, Brazil, China, South Korea and other countries.
Aerolíneas Argentinas has been regularly utilizing passenger planes for dedicated cargo operations since passenger operations were severely limited by the coronavirus pandemic. In early November, it began shipping blueberries and wine to Madrid with flights continuing around the world with stops in Guangzhou, China, and Auckland, New Zealand. The airline has operated more than 38 mini-freighter flights from China to deliver biosafety suits, face masks, gloves, components to manufacture testing reagents and other medical supplies to combat the coronavirus.