Logistics Capabilities for Covid-19 Vaccine Delivery and Distribution
Billions of vaccine doses have to be shipped to inoculate the world in 2021 – 2022 but for forwarders, shots are just a small percentage of cargo to be carried over the next couple of months.
In fact, logistics companies say they are prepared to handle shipments despite challenges like transporting shots in special boxes fitted with GPS trackers as to monitor whether sub-sub-zero temperatures are maintained. Vaccine doses are already delivered to Switzerland, Brazil, the United States, and the Middle East.
Fewer than 100,000 trucks will be needed to transport 8 billion shots, which is about 0.00001 percent of the total number of trucks available. Road transport accounts for more than ¾ of goods shipped, including essential supplies like medicines and food. Shippers say they are optimistic about their preparedness to handle large vaccine volumes during rollout, one reason being a general decline in volumes across industries like automotive and aerospace.
Airlines will be involved in deliveries as well as their fleets have already been repurposed to carry cargo. Forwarders that can move small shipments quickly may also have an advantage as vaccine doses ready for rollout in 2021 will be shipped regularly. In fact, lager volumes will be ready for rollout from January on. Logistics companies will be more actively involved in shipping and distribution in spring when large-scale rollout is projected to begin. Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech already announced that more than 1.8 billion doses will be ready for distribution in 2021.
Vaccines will be shipped by repurposed airplanes or trucked across Europe, with fleets carrying shots to African countries under humanitarian programs. Forwarders estimate that 1,000 freighters or between 5,000 and 6,500 trucks would suffice to move 11 billion shots.
Shipping companies involved in transportation will use temperature-controlled containers, thermal blankets, warehousing, and refrigerator trailers and trucks. Cold-chain facilities will be built for storage across Europe, Australia, and North and South America. To ensure that vaccines will be kept at right temperatures, major logistics companies plan on boosting their refrigerator and freezer capabilities and adding ultra-cold freezers.
Pharmaceutical-specific fleets can be used for specialized transportation as to meet temperature requirements for different vaccines. Trucking has been used for vaccine shipping and distribution for quite some time, with pharmaceutical companies delivering medical supplies to distribution centres on a daily basis. Time-critical vaccines are also trucked by cold-chain logistics companies which can facilitate large-scale delivery. In some countries, including the United States, regulators already announced plans to grant exemption to hours-of-service regulations as to speed up delivery. The emergency declaration in response to Covid-19 has also been extended to facilitate the shipping and delivery of equipment, medical supplies, and vaccines that are used for disease prevention.
Communication is also key when shipping vaccines that require ultra-cold temperatures. Major forwarders are already fitting their trucks and trailers with cellular devices so that they can communicate with satellites.