Logistic Challenges Delivering Vaccines

Supply chain expert skills will be put to the test supporting the logistics, transportation, and delivery of the new COVID-19 vaccines.  

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SupplyChainDive recently shared about the challenges of maintaining very cold temperatures throughout the delivery of the new COVID-19 vaccines door to door. "We refer to this as the biggest product launch in the history of mankind," said Neel Jones Shah, Flexport's head of airfreight, referring to coronavirus vaccines. "This is the top end of complexity of anything we've ever done before."

Not only are the cold temperatures required a challenge, for example, Pfizer’s product must be transported and stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, but also the quantity.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the United States has ordered 100 million doses, with the option to purchase 500 million more; the European Union ordered 200 million, with an option for another 100 million; and Japan ordered 120 million. The United Kingdom and countries in South America and the Asia-Pacific have also placed significant orders.

David Goldberg, CEO of DHL Global Forwarding USA stated, "The colder the storage requirement, the more complicated the logistics." Pfizer designed its own packaging, which will use dry ice to maintain storage without needing specialized appliances. Although there are challenges on this front as well, because there are current shortages in the U.S. of dry ice due to decreases in ethanol production where dry ice is a byproduct and it can’t be stockpiled because it evaporates.

Companies are once again coming together to help solve COVID-19 era challenges. UPS announced recently it is expanding dry ice production capacity to 1,200 pounds per hour in the U.S. and Canada.

Vaccines in a 2-8 degree Celsius temperature range, like Moderna’s and AstraZeneca’s, don’t need dry ice. The vials may be sent in a temperature-controlled container that holds a battery charge and keeps the contents at a consistent temperature. The containers are not new for the COVID-19 vaccine and are already used to move other vaccines and temperature-sensitive products. However, with a greater number of vaccines to transport, more containers may be needed at any one time.

Each step in the process will require companies to step up and work together to ensure a cold chain is maintained from airfreight, ocean freight, warehouse, last mile, etc. UPS for example is building freezer farms near air hubs in the U.S. and the Netherlands, adding 600 freezers that can hold 48,000 vaccine vials at minus 80 degrees Celsius. DHL Global Forwarding opened a 20,000-square-foot life sciences and healthcare logistics cold chain facility in Indianapolis, with three temperature-controlled chambers, the lowest at minus 20 degrees Celsius. Goldberg said DHL has four other cold chain facilities in the U.S. Others are working on assisting in the effort.

Once again, the importance of supply chain management is in the spotlight during this pandemic and companies are working together to provide solutions that should help us get to recovery.

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