The date is unknown, but many believe the arrival of the new vaccines will be this coming winter. That is the announcement of the vaccine developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And with it comes the challenge of distribution from the manufacturer to our health care facilities.
Both the United States and Russia are on the brink of announcing the introduction dates of their products and experts are warning of logistical challenges for distribution, both in the United States and world-wide.
The actual transportation of huge dosages of the vaccine is only one challenge; there is also consideration for temporary cold-storage facilities to house the vaccines. To some, the complete job is the arrival of a freighter at the main cities loaded with vaccines. This ignores the primary challenge; that is local distribution. In developing countries, local distribution is not overland, air or water are the only alternatives.
In addition, many third world countries do not have the facilities to provide storage. Does this mean that these countries have to supply temporary mobile cold storage facilities? These aspects of the safe usage of the vaccine become more of a challenge; local authorities must work with the transporting agencies and provide resources to ensure the vaccines have proper storage and reach the outlying regions.
The International Air Cargo Association (Tiaca) and Pharma.Aero formed a working group to develop global guidance and enable optimal transport of a vaccine. “As pharmaceutical companies race to develop the Covid-19 vaccine, it is still unclear what impact this will have on the global supply chain, specifically, logistics requirements and the air cargo industry,” the group noted.
The two associations are bringing together pharmaceutical manufacturers and logistics players to provide the industry with “more clarity” of the demands and expectations of vaccine supply chains, including requirements for quality control, critical trade-lanes, air cargo capacity, handling and storage and track and trace.
Neel Jones Shah, TIACA board member and global head of airfreight at Flexport, said: “Covid-19 vaccine delivery will be one of the biggest logistical challenges in modern history. No one company can own the end-to-end vaccine supply chain and we need to start working together to ensure the industry is prepared.”
Pete Mento, managing director global customs and duties at Crowe LLP, said: “It will likely cause incredible disruptions to every phase of global transport infrastructure as it strains capacity. This is going to make an iPhone release during a holiday rush seem like a tea party,” he said on LinkedIn.
Frederic Gomer, partner at B2G Consulting in Singapore said a single Boeing 777 freighter, or Airbus A340/A350, could carry a million vaccine doses, and added: “So it will require around 12,000 freighters to supply three-quarters of the global population.
“Most 3PLs have moved substantial volumes of PPE recently by air cargo, but vaccines are another level altogether.”
He added that a large number of shippers were “still behind”, with outdated technology, especially when moving fragile products in huge quantities.
“Product launches are always a headache, so let’s imagine for a second what the pharma industry will have to endure with the biggest ‘launch’ in history,” he said.