TAKING STOCK: Vaccine vagaries

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by Emily Atkins
Inside Logistics editor Emily Atkins

The greatest logistics challenge the world will ever see.

That’s how many are characterizing the pending distribution of vaccines against the coronavirus to the world’s population. Regardless of which vaccines are successful (and it will definitely be more than one), the simple fact remains at least 90 percent of humans should get the shot if we are going to be successful in defeating the pandemic in a reasonable amount of time. And the way things are going it looks like that means two shots per person. That’s about 14 billion doses, and climbing.

Even if the vaccine could be transported at ambient temperatures, that would represent a colossal logistical challenge. But add the fact that these doses will require a strict temperature control regimen, and the complexity intensifies. Some of the likely vaccines at the moment require deep freeze at -75ºC, others will be a little warmer, but this requirement alone highlights the lack of temperature control infrastructure – freezers – available to distribute the vaccines.

Then there is the question of packaging. If extreme cold temperatures need to be maintained in transit, what are the options? Dry ice might be cold enough, but it can only be transported by air in limited quantities. If that’s the solution, it will eat into already limited air cargo capacity, and slow distribution down.

It has been suggested that the vaccine manufacturers will likely be developing and supplying the packaging themselves. That would mean cartons of vaccine doses may be able to fly on pallets or in ambient unit load devices.

Or perhaps they won’t need to fly at all. Local or regional manufacturing may make it possible to move many of the doses by road, alleviating the strain on air cargo capacity.

What is evident so far is that there are many questions yet to be answered. Hopefully, by the time you read this, more details about the vaccines may be available, helping that process along.

Never has a global event offered an opportunity like this for the logistics and supply chain communities to come together and shine. Your collective cleverness, problem-solving abilities and command of the digital tools now available to the industry will no doubt result in a successful roll-out of vaccines all over the world.

If you’d like to share your story, please drop me a note at emily @ newcom.ca or look me up on LinkedIn.