RAF News

RAF takes COVID-19 Vaccine to South Pole

Boxes are loaded onto red plane labelled the British Antarctic Survey.

A consignment of AstraZeneca vaccines were received on Thursday 7th October by the British Antarctic Survey research facility in Rothera, Antarctica – the furthest south any British COVID-19 vaccine has yet travelled.

The enormous logistical feat was arranged by the not-for-profit international development organisation, Crown Agents, and the Ministry of Defence as part of the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office’s commitment to supply vaccines to all the inhabited UK Overseas Territories.

Personnel loads boxes into metal cargo container.

This means the UK has now shipped vaccines to all British Overseas Territories, as well as delivered donated vaccines to every continent on the planet.

The vaccines were flown by the RAF from RAF Brize Norton to Mount Pleasant Complex in the Falkland Islands.  They were then taken by a British Antarctic Survey aircraft to the research station at Rothera, on the Antarctic Peninsula.  The total voyage was almost 10,000 miles, covering 4 continents.

Metal cargo container moved around carrier aircraft, with personnel.

Throughout the journey, the Crown Agents and the Ministry of Defence logistical teams ensured the AstraZeneca vaccines were transported at controlled temperatures to keep the doses at their required 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.  Temperature-controlled vans were used in the UK, and whilst onboard aircraft the vaccines were again monitored in a controlled environment by the crew.  Prior to their final flight to Rothera, the vaccines were placed in a temperature-controlled container, before being stored in fridges at Rothera’s medical facility.

Metal cargo container moved on escalator into carrier aircraft.

Not only was it a temperature sensitive operation, but also time sensitive.  All logistics had to be carefully planned and executed to ensure the whole trip was completed in under 92 hours, to avoid spoilage of the vaccine.  Contingency plans were put in place for adverse weather and transport interruptions.

Metal cargo container moved on escalator into carrier aircraft with personnel.

Double doses of the vaccines will be available to the 22 members of the 'overwintering' team at the research centre, who keep facilities running during the coldest winter months.  Some of these staff include marine and terrestrial biologists, meteorologists, electronics engineers, a dive officer, doctor, and chef.

"Since March last year we have worked with the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office to ship medical items to literally the ends of the earth to support the UK Overseas Territories during the pandemic. From Pitcairn Island to Tristan Da Cunha, our teams have overcome extreme logistical challenges to deliver medical equipment - and supporting the safe arrival of vaccines all the way to Antarctica has certainly been a highlight.  It’s fantastic to see the UK Government’s commitment to the people of the Overseas Territories. Only by sharing the vaccines across the globe will we be able to combat the pandemic, and that includes reaching those in even the most remote and sparsely populated regions.  We’re incredibly proud to be supporting those stationed out in Rothera who are working in such extreme temperature conditions on behalf of research and science."

Fergus Drake
Crown Agents Chief Executive Officer

The RAF encourages all its workforce to follow NHS guidelines regarding COVID-19 vaccinations.  Visit the NHS website for more information and advice, including symptoms, testing vaccination and self-isolation.


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