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Russia ships Sputnik vaccine to Argentina on passenger jet

Aerolíneas Argentinas is flying ghost flights with cargo instead of passengers. It recently carried COVID-19 vaccines from Russia to Buenos Aires. (Photo: Flickr/Victor)

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.

Click here for more FreightWaves and 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 and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He won Environmental Journalist of the Year from the Seahorse Freight Association in 2014 and was the group's 2013 Supply Chain Journalist of the Year. In December 2022, Eric was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. He has appeared on Marketplace, ABC News and National Public Radio to talk about logistics issues in the news. Eric is based in Vancouver, Washington. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]