COVID-19 vaccine distribution challenge


The Covid-19 vaccine is highly anticipated, but creating the vaccine is only a small part of the wider picture; how will we ensure it is safely, securely, and swiftly sent around the globe to all those who need it?

There must be public-private planning, collaboration, and communication across all levels to ensure an effective response throughout the chain, from the facilities that create the vaccines, the regulations that protect those working, to the last-mile deliveries.

PayCargo has already invested and launched a free communication mechanism via our online payment platform allowing Vendors such as airlines to share key information with the 19,000-plus Payer users in our online ecosystem.

Logistics-related challenges were highlighted early in 2020 regarding the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), constrained capacity, complex customs processes, and regulations increasing the risk of delays, warehousing challenges, and transparency concerns.

Our communication service played a small role in helping to alleviate some of these industry-wide pressures and governments stabilized many of the initial key issues, but transporting PPE is much easier than the pharma product distribution challenge we have ahead of us. We run the risk of these problems returning when it comes to the vaccine if clear communication, critical thinking, and teamwork do not take center stage.

Capacity in the air

The first major hurdle is the strain on capacity caused by the grounding of passenger flights and the loss of associated belly cargo, with further demands expected due to the explosion of e-commerce activity and numerous electronic product launches.

It has been stated by some governments, including the US Government, that military flights will be used to assist in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines as a way to alleviate some of the capacity concerns.

The industry must be prepared for a quick response to capacity as the US Government plans to start shipping supplies within 24 hours of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approving a vaccine, and this will require clear communication and seamless collaboration.

Our Payers are looking to identify capacity and navigate the loss of passenger belly cargo and identify opportunities to use aircraft as efficiently as possible, and PayCargo is in a unique position to help the cargo community by facilitating the sharing of critical information between our Vendors and Payers across the supply chain.

The service allows Vendors to communicate schedule changes and available capacity options and provides Payers with Vendor contact details to quickly utilize pharma capacity and facilitate the quick release of vaccines.

Fragile cargo on board

Even if the vaccines can be mass-produced, there needs to be preparation for the mass-production of suitable packaging types to provide consistent temperature management and avoid damage to the shipments.

Health officials expect there will be more than one vaccine which raises the issue of multiple packaging solutions being needed – plus being designed and delivered – for different storage requirements.

Some vaccines require ultra-cold storage (-60°C to -80°C), whereas others vary in temperature from refrigerated (2°C to 8°C) to frozen (-15°C to -25°C); the variability in these requirements can cause severe difficulties along the chain, particularly in less developed regions where infrastructure is lacking or the environment is particularly harsh.

Furthermore, if items such as dry ice are used to maintain temperatures, there are strict limits regarding the maximum-allowed quantities of this dangerous good in air cargo transport, limiting shipment possibilities even more if the preparations are not made in time.

All of these issues highlight once again why the rapid release of cargo and clear channels of communication are necessary to reach the intended goals – and PayCargo is ready to assist the industry to achieve this.

Vaccines on the ground

Pharma-hub airports, such as Miami International Airport in the US, have the infrastructure in place to handle the vaccine pre- and post-flight, but it’s the smaller, regional airports where larger issues will arise.

A limited number of airports exist that have sufficient deep-freeze warehouses suitable for these vaccines, with only four such airports across all of Africa.

Service providers handling land-side transport have started to scale up their preparations to store and transport the highly temperature-sensitive Covid-19 vaccines, including adapting warehouses and fleets.

It is usual that only a fraction of truck fleets are coolers, but work is already being done to convert other vehicles into suitable vessels for the vaccines.

Poor infrastructure to remote communities is a particular problem across large parts of Africa, South America, and Asia, meaning these regions could not be readily supplied at scale due to lack of cold chain logistics capacity suitable for life science products.

Fortunately, many of these issues can be avoided or overcome if the supply chain comes together and collaborates across all verticals in both public and private sectors. If we all play our small part, it will go a long way towards facilitating the efficient distribution of the vaccine. This is a unique opportunity for the logistics supply chain to demonstrate our resilience, creativity and positive impact across the globe.