First shipment of Covid-19 vaccine arrives in Singapore from Belgium

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived on the evening of Dec 21, 2020, at Changi Airport aboard a scheduled SIA Boeing 747-400 freighter service from the Belgian capital Brussels. — TODAY pic
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived on the evening of Dec 21, 2020, at Changi Airport aboard a scheduled SIA Boeing 747-400 freighter service from the Belgian capital Brussels. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Dec 21 — Singapore received its first shipment of Covid-19 vaccine this evening on board a Singapore Airlines (SIA) cargo flight from Belgium, where it was manufactured.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived at Changi Airport aboard a scheduled SIA Boeing 747-400 freighter service from the Belgian capital Brussels at about 7.35pm.

The vaccine for the Sars-Cov-2 coronavirus is the first one to be approved for use in Singapore.

Singapore is also the first Asian country to receive the vaccine, which was jointly developed by American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. The vaccine is already in use in Britain and the United States.

Speaking to the media on the ground, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung thanked all the parties involved in the transportation of the vaccine.

“A lot of preparation work has gone in to make this as smooth as possible,” he said.

“Take, for example, our integrated service providers DHL, UPS, FedEx. They have either put in place, quite a lot of resources or even situated their regional HQ in Singapore.

“Our staff, our logistics companies, they have all been trained up to the World Health Organization standards to be able to handle this type of cargo safely.”

The vaccine must be kept at very low temperatures — about negative 70°C.

SIA said that as part of a trial run last Saturday on the same freighter route, thermal shippers — also known as cool boxes — that carry the vaccine were tracked for their internal temperature.

The sublimation rate of the dry ice in the cool boxes was also measured, referring to the process where solids turn to gas.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said in a televised address last Monday that the first shipment would reach Singapore by the end of December.

The first few groups of people given priority to get the vaccine will be healthcare workers, frontline personnel, seniors and the vulnerable. Following this, the rest of the population will be able to be vaccinated by the end of 2021.

Vaccines produced by other drug manufacturers are expected to arrive in Singapore in the coming months, Lee had said.

In a press statement on Monday, SIA said that the vaccine shipment was prioritised for loading onto the aircraft in Brussels, as well as unloading in Singapore.

It was then transported to airport ground handler Sats’ cold-chain facility, Coolport, for storage and ground transportation.

Chin Yau Seng, senior vice-president of cargo at SIA, said: “The delivery of this first batch of Covid-19 vaccines to Singapore is an important milestone in the fight against Covid-19, and we are honoured to be able to play a part in this.

“It also served to demonstrate the Singapore readiness for the very important job of transporting and distributing Covid-19 vaccines internationally.”

Logistics company DHL Global Forwarding said in a separate statement today that it had arranged for the vaccines to be collected from the manufacturing site in Puurs, Belgium. The cargo was accompanied by security escorts on the road to Brussels International Airport.

At Changi Airport, DHL handled the customs clearance and final delivery to “a designated location” in Singapore. The company will handle the return of the cool boxes to Europe. — TODAY

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