COVID-19 vaccines are likely to be a reality very soon, and the world lives in the belief that it will help vanquish the coronavirus. Yet, as experts rightly point out ensuring universal access to these vaccines will be a very crucial aspect in the battle strategy against the wily virus which has disrupted lives and livelihoods worldwide. And, supplying billions of COVID-19 vaccine doses efficiently across the globally, with utmost care for their efficacy, when they are approved and available for distribution is going will be the ultimate logistics challenge witnessed until now.
A few weeks earlier, DHL along with McKinsey, published a white paper on ‘Delivering Pandemic Resilience’, which highlights, “To provide global coverage of COVID-19 vaccines, up to ~200,000 pallet shipments and ~15 million deliveries in cooling boxes as well as ~15,000 flights will be required across the various supply chain set-ups.”
The DHL-McKinsey whitepaper also identifies key hurdles in COVID-19 vaccine logistics. Take a look at some of the pain points that the report highlights (Check out Fig 1).
Hence, Express Pharma spoke to a few players in the pharma logistics space to gain more insights into the three biggest challenges that the logistics sector will be faced with and the preparations underway to tackle them. Because after all, aren’t we only as strong as our weakest link?
Ultra-low transport and storage temperatures
Generally, vaccines are stored and transported between the temperatures of 2°C to 8°C range. However, with over 250 vaccines are being developed and tested across the world, the temperature requirements for at least some of them are likely to be considerably lower. And, as the development of most of these vaccines has been fast-tracked looking at their urgent need to control and end the pandemic, experts also feel that more rigorous procedures will be imposed to maintain and protect their efficacy during transportation and storage. This may necessitate temperature-controlled transport and warehouses at ultra-low temperatures (up to -80°C).
While India does have considerable expertise in vaccine production and distribution, the scale and scope of COVID-19 vaccines could pose a serious problem. So, how are the Indian players in this sphere optimising and ramping their capacities before the COVID-19 vaccines become available?
Vikash Khatri, CoFounder, Aviral Consulting informs, “Indian logistics players have already started preparations to handle the volume surge. Since this demand is not permanent, companies are looking for coordinated efforts to ramp up short term competencies.”
He adds, “For surface transportation and storage, we don’t foresee a major gap in the available infrastructure and the required infrastructure. A large quantum of infra will be used out of the existing setup, for which logistics companies are getting ready with necessary upgrades for the pharma industry.”
The flurry of measures on varied fronts by the different players corroborates Khatri’s views. To cite a few examples;
DHL opened its first temperature-controlled facility in India in July near the Hyderabad airport for pharma shipments. The company informed that the new facility offers “conditioning of packaging materials in different chambers for varying temperatures up to -20oC.” The facility offers online temperature monitoring and SMS alerts with all data available for download from a cloud-hosted service as well.
Similarly, Kool-ex, a pharma cold chain logistics service provider has partnered with IndoSpace, a developer and manager of industrial real estate and warehousing in India, to build GDP/GWP compliant, temperature-controlled, pharma distribution centres across the country. They plan to jointly design and set up three warehouses with 42,000 pallet positions in each warehouse, in the first phase by 2021 near Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. Koolex also intends to set-up 10-11 warehouses by 2023. These also include cold room facilities which will offer -20oC, if required for COVID-19 vaccines.
Blue Dart, an express logistics provider and part of the Deutsche Post DHL Group (DPDHL) is also ramping up its infrastructure with its pre-existing specialised temperature controlled logistics (TCL) to transport critical shipments such as vaccines, medical samples and more. The company informed through a statement that it can handle various temperature requirements be it frozen: (-80oC to -20oC), deep chilled (2oC to (8oC) or ambient (15oC to 25oC).
“With an agile response team overseeing the upscaling of our current capabilities, a strong fleet of dedicated Boeing 757 aircraft and robust infrastructure for our temperature-controlled logistics solutions, we are capable and prepared to meet any immediate large-scale demand,” informs Ketan Kulkarni, CMO & Head – Business Development, Blue Dart through a statement.
A few players also suggest that the cold chain facilities which are used to transport cell and gene therapies, as well as the capabilities in the food and agro-based industries, can also be redeployed with suitable upgrades to undertake and successfully execute this huge task. This could be a good idea but given how vital is the endeavour and the implications it will have on the wellbeing of populations across the country, putting strict protocols in place and ensuring that they are adhered to will be paramount.
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