Governments have an obligation to provide the population with hope for the future and have readily communicated that they have reserved millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from various sources. The development of the vaccine is a feat in itself; however, the deployment of the supply chain for distribution of the vaccine will also prove to be a significant challenge. For example, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), estimates that the transportation of approximately 800,000 tons of vaccines will require more than 8000, 747 jumbo freighters, making distribution a mammoth task. Vaccine production will mainly occur at facilities in China, India, Europe and the United States with challenges identified primarily in the outbound logistics.
All vaccines must be carefully packaged and transported on time in a temperature-controlled environment. However, the young vaccine has unstable, fragile molecules which ultimately means that it will need to be stored and transported at freezing temperatures of -18o C. Therein lies several major challenges.
The sheer volume of vaccines for distribution causes a primary challenge, whereby both the aviation and maritime sectors will need to respond to the call for help. Aviation does not have the capacity to manage large volumes of cargo requiring freezing temperatures. On the other hand, the maritime sector commonly transports frozen goods over vast distances using reefer containers that can store vaccines at -40o C/-65o C. Only a handful of airports worldwide are able to guarantee the integrity of the cold chain to a minimum of -18o C. Maintaining below freezing temperatures once on the tarmac and will also prove extremely challenging, particularly in Middle Eastern countries. Additionally, very few airports have sufficient deep-freeze storage facilities available to store such fragile and valuable cargo once on the ground.
The viability of the vaccine during transportation relies on the entire supply chain to maintain temperatures of at least, or below -18o C. This is a difficult task given that the whole supply chain consists of multiple parties, who have different responsibilities and who must operate seamlessly to maintain the integrity of the vaccine. There are several technological solutions for monitoring and maintaining temperature; however, they are not readily available for the intercontinental transportation of pharmaceutical goods.
The push for a vaccine continues, and competition is fierce. Facts are continuously manipulated by politicians looking to claim bragging rights and ownership of the COVID vaccine adding further pressure for its development. The race is also on for a logistics solution that ensures the viability of the vaccine across the entire supply chain, including last-mile distribution, and this is no small task. Political bickering and the struggle to find a safe and effective vaccine provides the forwarding industry a small window of opportunity to develop a one size fits all solution for distribution to all corners of the earth. The time is now for the entire sector to come together to provide a truly holistic solution for the whole of humanity.