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Airport ‘ready’ to handle vaccines

By Reuters and Macharia Kamau | February 20th 2021
The newly launched Astral Aviation Cargo Plane at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Nairobi on Friday January 21, 2021. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Mitchell Cotts plans to modify its pharma facility. Logistics executive says JKIA already has cold storage facilities for fresh produce exports.

Kenya’s main airport in Nairobi will find it easy to switch from handling fruit to importing vaccines because it already has extensive cold storage, a leading logistics executive says.

Farm commodities such as fresh fruit and vegetables, which must be kept cold before being loaded onto planes at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), are among Kenya’s main exports. 

“The fortunate thing about JKIA is that it has the biggest capacity within the East Africa region because of the nature of our trade,” Daniel Tanui, managing director of Mitchell Cotts, one of the biggest logistics companies in the country, told Reuters.

“Those horticulture facilities are refrigerated. It is easy to convert and use for an emergency.”

Companies and governments around the world are racing to establish cold-chain storage and delivery systems for vaccines which must be shipped and stored at ultra-cold temperatures and can only be kept in a standard fridge for up to five days.

Mitchell Cotts has applied for international certification by health authorities to handle the imports, Tanui said, adding that it can handle vaccines, which need to be kept as cold as -30 degrees.

The company will modify its existing pharma unit at its $25 million (Sh2.7 billion) facility at the airport, adding extra cabinets to hold the vaccines, and enhancing security.

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“When we designed this, we did not have in mind that a pandemic like Covid-19 will be there and the number of vaccines that will come,” Tanui said.

Other players that have been eyeing the importation of Covid-19 vaccines include local carriers such as Kenya Airways (KQ) and Astral Aviation, which have in the recent past unveiled cargo planes fitted with cold storage facilities to ship the vaccine into the country.

KQ in December unveiled an ultra-modern pharma facility at the airport, which will store heat-sensitive pharmaceutical products as it angles to play a role in the transportation and redistribution of vaccines in Kenya and the region.

Since March last year, the carrier has moved over 6,000 tonnes of medical equipment including personal protective equipment for use in Kenya and other African countries.

KQ heavily relied on its cargo services following the outbreak of Covid-19 but was limited due to its limited capacity.

Astral Aviation, a local cargo airline, is among 10 airlines globally that have signed agreements with the United Nations for distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines worldwide.

[Additional reporting by Macharia Kamau]

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