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Ships to Join Air Fleets in Vaccine Delivery

The number of coronavirus vaccine shipments is steadily increasing as rollout begins in more countries and more products become available. While the jabs are mostly transported by land and air, ships are also expected to join the race against the global pandemic. According to Financial Times, ships will get involved in vaccine distribution so that shots reach healthcare professionals instead of piling up in warehouse facilities.

Why Use Ships?

According to European logistics experts, vaccine supply and distribution is expected to exceed air freight capacity by the middle of 2021. Because of the surplus of jabs, the supply chain will face an increasing pressure when it comes to cold-chain infrastructure and air freight. Then container shipping will have a major role to play.


Another reason to transport vaccines by sea is the increasing pressure from manufacturers to reduce shipping costs. During the past decade, sea freight has been more heavily used to transport vaccines, drugs, and medical treatments. According to AstraZeneca’s former regional freight lead Mark Edwards, only 13 percent of medical products are shipped by air compared to 87 percent by sea.

Experts also highlight the fact that the refrigerated containers onboard vessels can be used as mobile warehouses for storage and distribution, thus aiding countries with poor or lacking cold-chain infrastructure.

How Are Vaccines Currently Shipped?

At present, the majority of Covid-19 vaccines are shipped by planes and trucks because most production sites are found in India, the U.S., and Europe. Ships will begin transporting vaccines to South America, Asia, and Africa starting this summer. This is precisely because air fleets will be unable to handle global vaccine delivery and keep up with demand.

In fact, some countries have already received vaccines shipped by sea. Some 360,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab arrived from India in the Republic of Malawi in the beginning of March, together with 3,625 safety boxes and 360,000 bundled syringes.

Vaccine Delivery by Mid-Summer

About half of the deliveries will be made locally, using short-haul flights and trucks, and the other half will be transported by planes and ships. While sea freight is expected to be relied on more heavily, speed is also prioritized and the volume of containers may be lower than projected. At the same time, AstraZeneca has been using ocean carriers for large shipments in recent years while its low-cost vaccine looks like the ideal candidate for sea freight distribution.

Other pharmaceutical giants are more likely to use air freight because of pressures by their quality departments.

Logistics and Implications for Vaccine Rollout

Shipping expert Hristo Petrov predicts that it will take 3 to 4 years to inoculate the global population and reach herd immunity. If there are no production or shipping delays, this would probably happen by the end of 2023. However, because of supply chain disruptions and virus mutations, vaccination may take longer, and logistics can be a major factor slowing down the global vaccine rollout.