Yup talking about that photo. There was another photo I saw afterwards of it being loaded onto a DHL branded truck at the airport so I guess they were the forwarders and they rented space on SQ Cargo instead of using their plane? They seem to have taken the credit that they successfully transported the vaccine but Singaoore Airlines claim the same thing lol. It seems like only one pallet of vaccine was loaded on the flight so I guess it doesn’t warrant a dedicated charter flight but I also would have thought they would use their own planes not least for marketing purposes where when the media captures the unloading it’s a DHL branded plane.
The major global integrators (DHL, FedEx, and UPS) rarely use their own aircraft for large shipments like this. They can and do, but it's not their preference, especially in the present environment with eCommerce activity through the proverbial roof. They'd rather stuff their aircraft with as much small parcel volume as they can. They do have "freight" (read: palletized shipments) offerings, but you wouldn't run something sensitive like these vaccines through the freight service on DHL-branded (or FedEx or UPS) aircraft. I mean, you could, but you just wouldn't largely because their processes and procedures typically don't involve sensitive cargo (to be fair, FedEx sort of does, but I'll try to avoid getting too far into the weeds with how they're different).
So, yeah, I strongly suspect that DHL was acting as freight forwarder here. Or, more properly, DGF: DHL Global Forwarding, a different division from DHL Express, which is to what I believe you're referring when bringing up their branded aircraft. DGF is one of the major pharma forwarders in the world along with companies like UPS Supply Chain Services, Kuehne + Nagel, Expeditors, etc. FedEx Trade Networks is a comparatively minor player in freight forwarding in general, let alone pharma.
Both take can take credit, as they should. DGF would've likely arranged the pre-carriage from the origin facility to the airport. They may have even built up the ULD considering there's a lot of DHL either tape or strapping (hard to tell from that photo) underneath the cargo net. They'd get it delivered to the SQ at the origin airport. Then SQ would do the airport-to-airport piece, obviously. Depending on a variety of local requirements, DGF either may be done at this point or may be involved in arranging the final mile from the airport to the consignee (amongst a few other things).
Restoring Penn State's transportation heritage...