Any COVID-19 vaccine from China can be cold-transported twice a week from Shenzhen to Africa and the rest of the world.

With various COVID-19 vaccines on the verge of mass distribution, the transportation of temperature-controlled medicines will be a key logistical concern.

China’s own vaccines may be ready for world distribution, too. To address the imminent shipping need, the logistics arms of Alibaba Group Holdings Limited has partnered with Ethiopian Airlines to offer specialized air freight. Temperature-controlled medicines will be distributed twice a week from Shenzhen to Africa, and to the rest of the world via Dubai and Addis Ababa.

This is China’s first cross-border medical cold chain route to be operated regularly and it is certified to transport temperature-controlled medicines including COVID-19 vaccines.

Cold chain management

The end-to-end transportation process requires a highly-effective cold chain management. During air freight, the entire cold chain cabin is equipped with a temperature control system that monitors the cabin’s temperature in real-time.

Shenzhen Airport is the fourth airport in China to possess the Independent Validators (CEIV) certification for pharmaceutical logistics from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and is well-equipped to handle biotechnology products.

In the Ethiopian destination, the cargo terminal in outfitted with compartmentalized cold storage facilities with temperature between -23℃ and 25℃. It occupies an area of 54,000 square meters, with dedicated cool dollies and pharma teams, as well as real-time temperature monitoring systems to ensure safe and seamless cold chain logistics.

Said James Zhao, General Manager, Cainiao International Supply Chain, the logistics arm of Alibaba Group: “Our global logistics network spans over 200 countries and regions, providing end-to-end integrated logistics services, including digital customs clearance capabilities. The launch of the cold chain air freight has further bolstered our global logistics capabilities, and will allow us to offer a one-stop solution for the global distribution of medical products such as COVID-19 vaccines.”

Tewolde GebreMariam, Ethiopian Group’s CEO, said: “Our airline will repeat its remarkable and globally-recognized success in leading the fast delivery of personal protection equipment a few months ago with similar (cold chain logistics standards) during the forthcoming global distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. We will be at the forefront to further discharge our responsibility in the distribution of the vaccine across the globe.”

In collaboration with its partners, Cainiao’s ‘Green Channel’ initiative has helped to transport medical relief items such as test kits, personal protection equipment and medicines for international organizations during the pandemic.