UNICEF, the United Nations agency providing humanitarian and medical relief to children, has held talks with around 40 airlines about their involvement in the future COVID-19 vaccine supply chain, Bloomberg has reported.

The meeting involved cargo airlines, couriers, passenger airlines with cargo divisions, and passenger carriers that would be able to use their passenger aircraft to carry vaccines. The talks focused primarily on the establishment of networks covering Africa and part of Asia, where scheduled air cargo coverage is the scarcest and would fall far from short of requirements. The meeting was coordinated by IATA and concerned the division of commercial roles once the vaccine is approved for distribution.

UNICEF is already the world's largest individual buyer of vaccines for its mass vaccination programmes in poorer countries around the world. It supplies over two billion doses of various vaccines per year. It is planning to fund and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to over 90 countries that are unable to acquire enough doses out of their own pockets.

IATA has recently estimated that the global distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine would require capacity equivalent to 8,000 B747-400(F)s. The delivery is expected to be particularly problematic in areas with limited storage facilities and poor air connectivity. Bloomberg reported that the industry is planning to focus first on vaccines not requiring very cold chains as they are significantly easier to distribute globally.