SINGAPORE - The first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine has landed in Singapore, a crucial first step to vaccinate the population.
The vaccine - the first from Pfizer to arrive in Asia - was carried by a Singapore Airlines (SIA) Boeing 747-400 freighter, SQ7979.
The flight had departed from Brussels, Belgium, on Sunday (Dec 20) and landed at Changi Airport at about 7.30pm on Monday (Dec 21).
The shipment was prioritised for loading into the aircraft in Brussels, as well as during unloading in Singapore, SIA said.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, Mr Kevin Shum, the director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and the chief executives of Changi Airport Group and SIA were among those who turned up at the airport to witness the arrival of the vaccine.
Ground handler Sats moved the vaccines to its cold chain facility Sats Coolport before they were loaded onto a refrigerated truck that will send them to an external storage facility.
Speaking to reporters at the facility, Mr Ong said: "We are ready to do this and a lot of preparation work has gone into making this as smooth as possible."
SIA had conducted a successful trial to test its vaccine handling capability along the same freighter flight route on Dec 19, the airline said.
It carried out the trial with cool boxes used to pack the actual vaccine, and had tracked the internal temperature within these boxes throughout the flight. It also monitored the rate at which dry ice within the box turned into carbon dioxide.
SIA senior vice-president for cargo Chin Yau Seng said the airline was honoured to be able to play its part in an important milestone in the fight against Covid-19.
"It also served to demonstrate SIA's and the Singapore air hub's readiness for the very important job of transporting and distributing Covid-19 vaccines internationally," he said.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the first Covid-19 vaccine approved by the Health Sciences Authority in Singapore. There are no details yet on how it will be rolled out.
The vaccine is already being administered in countries such as Britain, Canada and the United States.
Singapore is one of the first countries to obtain the vaccine, and other vaccines are expected to arrive in the coming months, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced last week.
The vaccines will be offered on a free and voluntary basis to all Singaporeans and long-term residents who are currently here.
Priority will be given to healthcare and front-line workers, as well as elderly and vulnerable patients.
If all goes according to plan, there will be enough vaccines for everyone in Singapore by the third quarter of 2021.
The Republic has also beefed up its capacity to store and transport Covid-19 vaccines, and is positioning itself to be a hub for the movement of Covid-19 vaccines to the region.
Shipments from Europe are expected to go through Singapore to South-east Asia and South-west Pacific when broader regulatory approval is secured.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and Changi Airport Group have set up a task force to work on the vaccine shipment process. The task force comprises 18 members in the air cargo sector, including SIA and ground handlers Sats and dnata.
Logistic firm DHL Global Forwarding, a division of German logistics giant DHL, said it had arranged for the collection of the vaccines from the manufacturing site in Puurs in Belgium. The vaccine cargo was accompanied by security escorts on the road to the airport in Brussels.
DHL will also handle the final delivery of the vaccine to the designated location in Singapore, it said.