Cathay Pacific Cargo enables pandemic supplies for South East Asia from Australia

Vital medical shipments, including 10 million COVID-19 Moderna vaccine doses for Vietnam, dispatched despite logistical challenges

Cathay Pacific Cargo has been carrying COVID-19 vaccines, personal protection equipment (PPE) and other vital medical equipment from Australia to Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia on behalf of the Australian Government in a challenging series of shipments in April.

Cathay Pacific Cargo’s Brisbane team has so far overseen the shipment of more than 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Brisbane and Queensland’s Toowoomba Wellcamp Airport to Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. The shipments included vaccines from Moderna, AstraZeneca and, in the pipeline, Pfizer, which all have different temperature requirements for storage and transit. However, Cathay Pacific Cargo’s Vaccine Solution has allowed for total care and customer reassurance throughout, despite the different requirements, and all backed up by CEIV Pharma accreditation both in the air and throughout the journey.

‘The Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at -60°C, and that means we are looking at the Envirotainer CryoSure cooltainer for the shipment,’ says David Harris, Area Cargo Manager Queensland. ‘This will mark the first time that Cathay Pacific Cargo has handled the lease for this cold-chain product out of Australia.’

The AstraZeneca shipments were kept at 5°C in Envirotainer’s RAP e2 and their new RLP cooltainers, while the Moderna vaccines were kept at -20°C in va-Q-tec’s va-Q-tainer Twinx, which make use of vacuum insulated panels (VIPs) and phase change materials (PCMs).

On top of the challenges of handling vaccines requiring separate and specific handling, the sheer number of vaccine doses had an impact on plans for the goods destined for Hanoi, as did finding space for the equivalent of three-and-a-half articulated trucks’ worth of PPE and other equipment, including much that had to be trucked to Sydney.

While the total manifest would have all fitted onboard one chartered Boeing 747 freighter as originally planned, it was not to be – as Nigel Chynoweth, Regional Head of Cargo Southwest Pacific, explains. ‘With that quantity and the financial value of vaccines it was decided to split the shipment over a number of movements,’ he says.

That meant that rather than a one-off bespoke charter, the entire shipment was broken down to be carried in regular scheduled flights across a six-week period, with goods stored in the Cathay Pacific Cargo Terminal in Hong Kong for consolidation for onward flights into Hanoi, using the appropriate cold storage facilities. Thankfully, the shipper and forwarders were able to monitor shipment status using Ultra Track, Cathay’s next-generation, multi-dimensional track and trace solution.

‘The Cathay Pacific Brisbane team understood the sensitivity and the specialist handling required for these shipments,’ says Kevin Molen, Regional Manager of Express Freight Management, the forwarder working on the project. ‘It has been a challenging and satisfying experience working cooperatively to ensure the needs of the customer were met along with the very specific requirements of the vaccines and consumables.’

In the end, the vaccines came to Hong Kong on four flights, with the medical consumables, including gowns and facemasks, coming across on multiple other flights – each providing further challenges for transport and warehouse partners in Australia, under the Australian Government’s coordination.

Cathay Pacific Cargo’s expertise provided reassurance throughout, as Molen outlines. ‘We used Cathay Pacific Cargo’s Ultra Track to monitor the vaccines en route and this provided a high level of confidence for the customer,’ he says. ‘We also used the Priority product to ensure that the shipments flew as booked.’

Despite the challenges, all the shipments have now arrived safely in Vietnam – and the team is proud to have played its part.