Abu Dhabi has launched a global logistics centre to deliver billions of Covid-19 vaccine doses around the world by the end of next year.
The Hope Consortium will provide vaccine storage and distribution and transported five million doses already this month.
Most of the vaccines under development require very cold storage – posing a logistical challenge.
But the hub will ensure vaccines are stored at the correct temperature, sourced and distributed depending on demand, and correctly tracked.
It follows news that three highly effective vaccines have been developed against Covid-19 and brings hope that an end to the pandemic is on the horizon.
The hub is being run by the Department of Health Abu Dhabi, Etihad Cargo, Abu Dhabi Ports Company, Rafed, part of ADQ, and SkyCell.
The department will oversee regulatory compliance, while Rafed, a group purchasing organisation, will procure vaccines.
“Developing a vaccine is only the first step in getting to a solution," said Sheikh Abdullah Al Hamed, chairman of the Department of Health Abu Dhabi.
"Getting that vaccine to the whole globe, while maintaining a robust integrity of temperature is an equal challenge by itself. The Hope Consortium will provide that solution on the highest level of quality," he said.
"While assuring vaccine supply to the domestic market, the Hope Consortium will offer international governments, non-governmental organisations, and vaccine suppliers a cohesive solution across every supply chain step."
The world is gearing up to mount one of the largest vaccination programmes. Vaccines developed by the University of Oxford, Pfizer and Moderna have given the world hope the pandemic could be edging towards an end.
A vaccine developed by Chinese company Sinopharm has also been approved for emergency use in the UAE, where Phase 3 trials are taking place.
SkyCell, a Swiss company that develops temperature-controlled logistics containers for the pharmaceutical industry, will establish a regional service and manufacturing centre in Abu Dhabi to aid distribution. The containers maintain steady temperatures for an average of 202 hours (8.4 days) and self-recharge automatically in a cooling chamber or refrigerated lorry.
Digital technology infrastructure will be used to manage storage and distribution. Transport will be managed by Etihad Cargo and Abu Dhabi Ports Company.
Sheikh Abdullah said the companies involved had expertise in delivering millions of Covid-19 related items around the world including personal protective equipment, vaccines and pharmaceuticals.
The Hope Consortium hopes to be able to move and store more than six billion vials – whether in single or multi doses – in cold and ultra-cold conditions by next year, rising to more than three times that by the end of next year. This represents the largest capacity and capability regionally and one of the largest globally.
Distribution of the vaccines, which will be stored in Abu Dhabi Ports Company facilities, will be carried out by Etihad Cargo, the first Middle Eastern carrier to gain the International Air Transport Association's centre of excellence for independent validators certification for pharmaceutical logistics. The UAE’s national carrier will use its network to supply vaccines.
Tony Douglas, Etihad Aviation Group chief executive, said Abu Dhabi was geographically well placed to act as a hub.
“Etihad Cargo’s role in the consortium will leverage our pharmaceutical logistics expertise and specialised pharma and healthcare service, PharmaLife ... capable of facilitating temperature-sensitive cargo between 25⁰C and -80⁰C," he said.
Mr Douglas said Etihad would use its charter operations to meet global demand for Covid-19 vaccine shipments.
“A dedicated pharmaceutical handling facility to accommodate increased capacity at our Abu Dhabi hub is also currently under review,” he said.
Efforts are increasing at home and abroad to vaccinate the world. Emirates last month established a hub at its SkyCargo centre in Dubai to allow the carrier to fly in vaccines from manufacturing sites globally.