Coronavirus Singapore

Singapore ready to be hub for vaccine shipment

Republic's air connectivity and ability to store shipments at low temperatures give it an edge

The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines could soon arrive in Singapore. Here is a closer look at how some vaccines will be distributed in a series of transportation and storage links called a cold chain.

The Republic is ready to be a hub for the movement of Covid-19 vaccines to the region, with shipments from Europe expected to go through Singapore to South-east Asia and South-west Pacific when broader regulatory approval is secured.

Mr Ho Yuen Sang, director of aviation industry at the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), said Singapore can play a distribution role for areas where infrastructure to handle large volumes of vaccines may be limited.

"In such areas, they may prefer to take more frequent delivery of their vaccines in smaller volumes so as not to overwhelm their local cold-chain handling capacity," explained Mr Ho.

Pfizer's vaccine needs to be kept at minus 70 deg C, and Moderna's needs to be stored at minus 20 deg C.

Mr Ho said Singapore's air connectivity as well as its ability to store shipments at low temperatures put it in a good position to temporarily store the vaccines.

He was speaking at a media briefing yesterday by the Changi Ready Taskforce to explain Singapore's readiness to handle Covid-19 vaccine air cargo.

The task force, co-led by CAAS and Changi Airport Group (CAG), comprises 18 members, including Singapore Airlines (SIA), ground handlers, logistics partners and the authorities.

On Singapore's ability to maintain the cold chain, CAG managing director for air hub development Lim Ching Kiat said: "We have placed a lot of emphasis on strengthening Changi's competitive advantage in terms of pharma cargo shipment. So Changi Airport has especially in recent years become the key preferred hub for pharmaceutical shipments."

A dozen firms in the Changi air hub have received international certification for pharmaceutical handling, and ground handlers Sats and dnata have also invested in capabilities to maintain an unbroken cold chain.

The task force said that SIA also operates multiple weekly flights to key European pharmaceutical hubs, such as Amsterdam, Brussels and Frankfurt, and has a wide network in South-east Asia and Southwest Pacific, which includes Australia and New Zealand.

The first batch of Pfizer's vaccine is being manufactured in the Belgian town of Puurs and will be transported from Brussels.

Major logistics players such as DHL, FedEx and UPS also have regional hubs in Singapore with strong network connectivity from Changi Airport, noted the task force.

Mr Lim said: "Changi Airport, together with the authorities, will be trying to engage some of the key shippers to sell the strengths of the Changi air hub as a whole, how we have experience in handling pharmaceuticals, and for this exercise we will do it in a safe manner."

The move to position Singapore as a hub to distribute vaccine cargo to the region comes amid a growth in cargo handling.

CAG said cargo flights at Changi Airport have tripled from end-2019 to 950 flights weekly as of Dec 1 with about 80 cities connected through these cargo flights.

On the significance of Changi working to be a hub for the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, Mr Lim said it represents a humanitarian effort and helps bring cargo business to the airport.

He added: "The widespread vaccine distribution is a very key part to the recovery of passenger travel, so we also have a very vested interest to make sure that.... vaccine (distribution) is made as efficient and as quick as possible."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore ready to be hub for vaccine shipment'. Subscribe