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Supply Chain Industry Updates

Think Your Company Faces Logistical Challenges?

  • Distributing billions of perishable COVID-19 vaccine dosages will be an unprecedented undertaking.
  • The public and private sectors are making progress, but serious challenges remain.

We’re sure you routinely face down some doozies, actually. But you’ve probably never had to help distribute vaccines to the entire global population, with billions of people’s health and the currently stalled world economy hanging in the balance. Nobody has. Even so, some progress toward achieving this daunting task is being made.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that 156 countries — representing 2/3 of the world’s population — had signed onto its plan to deliver 2 billion vaccine doses around the world by the end of 2021.

Meanwhile, major parcel carriers and logistics companies have been sharing how they intend to play their parts in distributing the highly perishable vaccines. One of the challenges will be keeping the vaccines at sub-zero temperatures, and UPS and others are building “freezer farms” to keep vials super-cooled.

Visibility of shipments is another concern. FedEx last week said its new sensor device will allow enhanced tracking of all sorts of shipments, including vaccines. “Packages equipped with the SenseAware ID sensor are tracked hundreds of times versus dozens of times with traditional package scanning protocols, which provides an unprecedented amount of real-time data about the location of the shipment,” the company said.

“Logistics chain will have to undergo an electroshock.”

But those aren’t the only challenges that will have to be surmounted to get the fragile vaccine, once developed and approved, to people around the world. A headline today in The STAT Trade Times put it bluntly: “Logistics Chain Will Have to Undergo an Electroshock for COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution.”

“When a vaccine is finally on the market, it will be a tour de force to distribute those 800,000 [metric tons] of vaccines worldwide from the production sites,” warned the article on the South Asian business site. “However, there is not yet a proven logistics chain that can guarantee worldwide that the vaccine will reach the patient qualitatively.”

The article’s authors, who included scientists from the University of Antwerp, identified these 4 challenges:

  • The aviation industry does not have much experience at transporting cargo at freezing temperatures and “definitely not for that massive volume.”
  • Very few airports worldwide have the infrastructure suitable for super-cold shipments.
  • Few supply chains currently can can monitor and guarantee the stability of the vaccines. (FedEx’s SenseAware ID sensor seems to be a step in that direction.)
  • The last mile.

“Potentially the most complex part of the logistics chain, as is often the case, is the last mile or the distribution from the local frozen warehouses to the hospitals, pharmacies or doctors,” noted the authors of The STAT Trade Times article. “Here also the problem of available local warehouse capacity arises, and hence temperature stability and monitoring during distribution.”

Another obstacle that should be added to the list is international politics. The United States and China did not sign onto WHO’s distribution plan, known as COVAX, and the organization warned that this could lead to a patchwork approach.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented global crisis that demands an unprecedented global response,” WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Vaccine nationalism will only perpetuate the disease and prolong the global recovery. Working together through the COVAX facility is not charity; it’s in every country’s own best interests to control the pandemic and accelerate the global economic recovery.”


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