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COVID-19 community stories

Following in the footsteps of a
COVID-19 vaccine shipment

As the production of COVID-19 vaccines ramps up, Cathay Pacific Cargo is ready for the challenge of transporting millions of doses around the world. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the vaccine journey.

1. Fresh from the factory

The journey begins at pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, where vaccines are prepared, packed and loaded into refrigerated trucks for export.

2. Keeping their cool

The COVID-19 vaccines have to be kept very cold – at -70°C, in some cases. Individual vaccine boxes are loaded into cooltainers – special containers that keep shipments at a specific temperature.

An active cooltainer is powered by batteries, with a thermostat that regulates a cooling/heating system inside. Vaccines needing extra low temperatures may be packed with chilled gel packs or dry ice, which has a freezing point of -78°C.

3. Monitoring all the way

Our new Ultra Track system records the GPS position, temperature and humidity of each vaccine shipment in real-time. This information is transmitted to the Hong Kong-based control centre for our team to monitor.

For example, if we see temperatures rising at the departure terminal, we can instruct our team to add more dry ice to the cooltainer, or recharge cooltainer batteries to ensure shipments are always safe.

4. Even above 30,000 feet

Once the aircraft has taken off, the data logger devices continue to record the condition of the vaccines. All that data is beamed straight to our headquarters in Hong Kong after the plane lands.

5. An expert welcome

All vaccines will arrive in Hong Kong, either for distribution in the city, or for a short transit before being flown to their onward destination. Vaccine shipments get top priority, so when the aircraft lands at Hong Kong International Airport, an expert team is ready and waiting. Cathay Pacific Cargo and its subsidiaries are all fully certified by CEIV Pharma – the International Air Transport Association’s assurance scheme. That means everyone is specially trained to handle vaccine and pharmaceutical shipments, and all the necessary facilities are in place.

6. Temporary accommodation

Shipments on a tight turnaround are temporarily stored in large, refrigerated trolleys that can move cooltainers around the terminal at specific temperatures. Vaccine shipments with a longer turnaround are stored in cold rooms especially built for vaccines.

7. Final inspections

Our team monitors the sensor data of shipments throughout their stay in Hong Kong. When the time comes for the shipment to board its flight, we perform final checks to ensure the cooltainers have been recharged, or dry ice has been replenished, before the shipment is loaded on board the aircraft.

8. Touch down

When the vaccines arrive at their final destination, the cooltainers are unloaded and taken to the warehouse to be collected by the final recipient's refrigerated trucks, or stored in cool rooms.

Meanwhile, the vaccines intended for Hong Kong can be released within 42 minutes of the aircraft landing, thanks to the priority procedures in place, and be delivered straight to the health authorities, hospitals and people who need them.