Abu Dhabi will become a gateway to two thirds of the global population in need of Covid-19 vaccines, as the UAE prepares to play a major role in the worldwide pandemic recovery.
The largest logistical operation in modern times is preparing to establish new manufacturing plants and cold-chain distribution networks from the Emirates to serve nations most in need of immunisation.
How that will look in the months and years to come was revealed at a high-level discussion on Monday morning.
The key players were speaking at a virtual conference organised by the Hope Consortium, an Abu Dhabi-based logistics group set up to deliver vaccines globally.
“When we started the Hope Consortium we wanted to provide a gateway to two thirds of the population; it is one of the largest logistical efforts of our time,” said Dr Jamal Mohammed Al Kaabi, undersecretary of the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi.
“Making sure the amount of vaccines are available is crucial.
“Sometimes you need to take the risks to make these achievements, and we are moving really fast towards data-based solutions.”
The rapid turnaround of PCR testing – from six days at the start of the outbreak to less than 24 hours today – was hailed as an example of that transition.
The huge volume of testing allowed health authorities to test, trace and isolate new cases without delay and that is set to continue, Dr Al Kaabi said.
'Vaccine manufacturing is a complex process'
The first Covid-19 vaccine production line in the UAE was announced on Sunday, and will play a key role in vaccinating millions of people in the region.
The joint Life Sciences and Vaccine Manufacturing in the UAE project will be led by Group 42, in partnership with Chinese drug maker Sinopharm.
Abu Dhabi's Group 42 said a dedicated facility would soon be built in the capital's Kizad freezone, in partnership with drug maker Julphar.
While doses are already being manufactured at Julphar's main plant in Ras Al Khaimah, the number is set to reach two million doses a month once full national capacity is reached.
Ashish Koshy, chief executive of G42 Healthcare, told the conference that production would begin later this year.
“Vaccine manufacturing is a complex process and it will take time to build a certified facility,” he said.
“The key is always partnerships to bring vaccines here with distribution and logistics to support the national mission.
“I’m confident this will move beyond this vaccine towards multiple vaccines to transport across the globe," Mr Koshy said.
“Abu Dhabi is blessed with the right human resources of doctors, researchers, scientists and engineers to support this.”
With Abu Dhabi in a key strategic position, close to Europe and Asia, it is well placed for a new manufacturing and distribution network.
Much depends on the UAE’s ability to deliver vaccines to areas without established refrigerated distribution networks.
With 3.6 billion people reachable within five hours of Abu Dhabi, it is ideally located to provide the service.
Mohamed Juma Al Shamisi, group chief executive, Abu Dhabi Ports, said there was cold-store capacity to hold 180 million vaccines at temperatures as low as minus 80°C.
“We can handle 18 billion vaccines through Abu Dhabi with tracing from source to patient to ensure the journey does not compromise the vaccine.
“Investments in special vehicles and packages, from the airport to storage, has provided a total logistics solution," said Mr Al Shamisi.
"This is not just for the UAE, we can reach 3.6 billion consumers around us."
A year ago, Etihad's fleet of passenger aircraft was grounded, as international borders closed and air travel was brought to a standstill.
Since then, dedicated staff have been retrained in new Covid protocols with the airline's entire staff PCR checked or vaccinated before every flight.
Now Etihad is preparing to play a key role in vaccine delivery.
“The unique capability we have is a cold supply chain in our cargo network that has allowed us to give a strategic response quickly to the pandemic,” said Tony Douglas, group chief executive at Etihad Aviation, who backed the idea of a vaccination passport to open up international air travel.
"Now we can address the vaccine inequalities. With our network we are able to connect more than 170 countries.
“We have trained dedicated staff and over the course of the last 12 months, Etihad has flown to places not in our networks before.
“Our priority now is scaling up and having the capacity to get vaccines to those who need them most. That is the next challenge," said Mr Douglas.
“We need to adapt and adopt. Covid-19 will not go away anytime soon.”