How air cargo helped eradicate small pox

World Immunisation Week is fast approaching.

Running from April 24th to 30th, the World Health Organisation-sponsored health campaign aims to raise awareness of immunisation against vaccine-preventable diseases. In this series, we’ll be looking at the history of vaccines and how they’ve battled the world’s deadliest diseases, alongside the crucial role of air cargo in getting them where they need to be, fast.

The WHO’s greatest success has been the elimination of smallpox, which killed an estimated 300 million people in the 20th century alone.

As recently as the 1960s, some 15 million cases occurred each year, prompting the WHO to launch a massive 10-year campaign in 1967 to eradicate the illness. Led by American medic Donald Henderson, the initiative proactively vaccinated populations prone to the disease and those who had come into contact with the disease.

At this time, temperature controlled aircraft was crucial, delivering vast quantities of vaccines to populations in Asia and Africa that were most vulnerable.

The result? The last case was observed in 1977 in Somalia, with final completion of the programme in 1980, declaring the disease eliminated. Smallpox is the only human disease to have ever been eradicated.

Today, vaccines are some of our most critical and precious shipments. And demand is growing – we’ve seen volumes rise by 40 per cent in just the last two years. In 2017 alone, we delivered 3.5 billion vaccine doses.

Transporting vaccines remains a delicate process. It’s essential that they are kept at a temperature between two and eight degrees to ensure there’s no damage to their structure, otherwise they don’t confer immunity.

There’s still a way to go before all vaccine immunisation can stamp out all diseases, but thanks to the work done to combat smallpox, millions have lived without the fear of death from a vaccine-preventable infection.