The world’s first dedicated airside hub for Covid-19 vaccines opened in Dubai on Thursday.
Set up by Emirates, at the airline's SkyCargo facility in Dubai South, the hub will allow the carrier to fly in vaccines from manufacturing sites globally.
It can also store about 10 million vaccine vials and prepare shipments for regional and worldwide distribution.
More than 100 Covid-19 vaccines are in development around the world with plans for a mass inoculation campaign against the virus that has killed more than 1.13 million people and caused a major global economic downturn.
“Dubai is well positioned to serve as a gateway and distribution hub for Covid-19 vaccines to the rest of the world,” said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, chairman of Emirates.
“We have the infrastructure and logistics connections, and a geographic location that puts markets representing more than two-thirds of the world’s population within an eight-hour flying radius.”
The airline’s cargo facility in Dubai World Central has a pharmaceuticals storage area spanning 4,000 square metres.
This will allow for large scale storage and distribution of potential Covid-19 vaccines, once a jab is approved for mass use.
The facility can hold about 10 million highly sensitive vaccines at a temperature range of 2 to 8°C.
Coronavirus vaccination programmes will face many logistical challenges and temperature, which will change between airports, on-board a plane, on arrival and during local distribution, will be among the main ones to tackle.
But Sheikh Ahmed said the airline had plenty of experience with temperature-sensitive products.
“Over the years, through our continuous investment in capabilities and processes for the transport of temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals, Emirates SkyCargo has managed to position Dubai among major global pharmaceutical customers as the year-round preferred point of transit for their valuable cargo,” he said.
“Setting up a dedicated airside hub for Covid-19 vaccines is a keystone project harnessing our network, reach and competencies to positively impact the lives of people around the world.”
The UAE was chosen for the Phase 3 trial of a vaccine by the Chinese company Sinopharm.
It was tested on tens of thousands of volunteers before being approved for emergency use. Extensive tests found the vaccine to be safe and effective.
A number of senior officials have since been inoculated with the vaccine, including Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, and Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Youth.
Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine will also be tested in the UAE.