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P&O Ferries Offers to Carry COVID-19 Vaccine to the UK for Free

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Image courtesy P&O Ferries

Published Dec 3, 2020 6:41 PM by The Maritime Executive

DP World-owned ro/ro and freight ferry operator P&O Ferries is offering to transport import shipments of COVID-19 vaccines into the UK, free of charge. 

“We stand ready to support the Government in getting all the necessary vaccines into the UK," said DP World in a statement. “What’s more, we are willing to do this work for free should we be asked to do so, to help play our part in getting the UK through the pandemic as fast as possible.”

The "cold chain" shipments for the UK's first approved COVID vaccine will be critical. British regulators have given the green light to a promising vaccine candidate developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, beating regulators in Europe and the United States to approve the first product in the West (and attracting controversy in the process.)

The UK has placed orders for 40 million doses of the two-dose regimen, enough to supply about 30 percent of the population of Britain. The first doses will be allocated to nursing home residents and to health care workers, and distribution will begin next week. Pfizer's data suggests that the vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 illness among recipients.

However, Pfizer's vaccine is vulnerable to degradation in warmer temperatures, and it requires extreme refrigeration below -76 degrees F for storage and transport. Pfizer will be using a specially-designed shipping container with dry ice for cooling, and it will be capable of maintaining the required temperature for up to 10 days - meaning that its transport is time-sensitive. 

Existing government contracts

P&O has offered to transfer the vaccine for free, but it already holds part of a $105 million contract with the British government to ensure "smooth" continuation of cargo service after the UK's Brexit transition comes to an end. The six-month contract ensures security of freight capacity at alternative ports, away from the Channel hubs most likely to see disruption when Brexit takes hold on January 1. These include Felixstowe, Harwich, Hull, Newhaven, Poole, Portsmouth, Teesport and Tilbury. 

In October, P&O drew criticism when it announced plans to suspend its Hull-Zeebrugge route - which received a separate $1.6 million government contract earlier this year - and to take two ships out of service. 

In a statement, MP for Hull East Karl Turner accused P&O of failing to meet its obligations. “This is another example of P&O taking lucrative government contracts but unfortunately not delivering in terms of protecting the route which is important to businesses in Hull and the surrounding area," Turner said. “The government should be forcing P&O to keep the route open if they are getting a big chunk of these [$105 million] post Brexit monies.”