Apart from tackling the coronavirus by creating vaccines, one of the biggest challenges that stands on the doorsteps of the healthcare industry and governments is the transportation and distribution of vials. First doses have already been administered in Western nations like the USA, the UK and Germany. Many other countries are expected to start rounds of vaccination in the coming days.
Moving the delicate vaccine vials to different parts of the world is a cause of concern for logistics expert as the vaccine stability for many covid-19 vaccines are demanding. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored at a whopping -70°C. The average cold chain supply offers between 2° to 8°C. Clearly, these temperatures are not suitable for this vaccine since variations can destroy or reduce the vials' potency. This may not be the case for all the covid-19 vaccines in the market, such as Moderna, AstraZeneca, etc. Still, the need to develop a robust cold chain technology is the need of the hour.
As of now, most vaccines will be transported through air freight due to the time-sensitivity of the pandemic, and the needed stability for the vaccines. Some vaccines such as Pfizer have made their own transport boxes that are dependent on dry ice and can be stored up to 10 days without a specialised freezer. Moderna vaccine, on the other hand, can easily be stored in any household refrigerator for up to 10 days. Whereas the AstraZeneca vaccines can also be stored in any household refrigerator and do not have an expiration.
Broadly, three common types of end-to-end solutions can be expected for the delivery of the covid-19 vaccines. First, the direct shipment takes the boxes or pallets from the vaccine's finish point and directly transports it to the final destination. The next type involves cross-docking and labelling of the shipment at the border, thereby reducing cross border shipping costs. Finally, the last type involves local warehouses to store the pallets and then conduct the last mile of boxes to different end receivers.
At the same time, countries with underdeveloped cold chain logistics will face challenges to conduct transport of the vaccines. It would be required for them to build capacity to sustain proper handling of vaccines. This is just one side of the problem, the other is the requirements that enable the shipment of these vaccine vials. To complete the proper production of the vaccine, materials need to be shipped to manufacturing units. Recently, many refrigeration companies are receiving large booking orders. Along with refrigeration, vials and syringes production have also significantly increased, requiring transport to manufacturing units and vaccination centres. In the production of a single vial of the vaccine, the relevance of logistics is integral.
For now, contracts have been given to large companies such as DHL and Kuehne+Nagel. The order size is not revealed by the companies. Kuehne+Nagel will be mostly responsible for transporting the Moderna vaccine, stored in the Bundeswehr barracks in Quackenbrück, in Niedersachsen, at the moment. However, with 200 plus vaccines under different stages of trail, soon the opportunities to take part in pharmaceutical are expected to open to small and medium-sized enterprises.
The first few weeks of 2021 have already been hopeful with large vaccination drives taking place in different parts of the world. Simultaneously, the arrival of vaccines has opened opportunities for the supply chain industry to provide technologically forward solutions to deliver the vaccines. The efforts of the healthcare care industry, pharmaceuticals and logistics are paving the way towards normalcy, as they bring the vaccine to the world's population.