The distribution of a vaccine is extremely complex, as it is necessary to have everything absolutely planned, from the moment the vaccines are shipped by the pharmaceutical companies until they reach a person’s arm, and there are several key elements to consider.
- Optimizing insufficient air cargo capacity
The airline industry will play a key role in logistics because, while some vaccines will be able to be distributed by road, the challenge of distribution capacity, from production centers to destination points, will require the participation and effort of all airlines to get vaccines to people.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has stated that “providing a single dose to 7.8 billion people would require 8,000 Boeing 747 cargo planes”. For its part, Boeing, in its publication Commercial Market Outlook 2020-2039, points out that, at present, the world cargo fleet is 2,010 airplanes, a number far below the 8,000 needed. It should also be noted that not all available cargo aircraft are of the 747 models. It should be noted that flight operations require special authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since the need for the dry ice to maintain the temperature of large quantities of vaccines exceeds the safety protocols in force for the aviation industry.
- Logistical constraints in the cold chain
To establish the distribution logistics requirements, the first step is to determine the vaccine receiving and storage locations, and then proceed to design the distribution operations.
Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at temperatures of -70℃ (temperatures colder than Antarctica), while Moderna’s vaccine must also be frozen, but only at -20℃ (standard freezer temperatures). The remaining vaccines, which do not develop messenger RNA technology, have minor cold storage restrictions.
Subsequently, these vaccines must be distributed to designated vaccination points in each country. These will include medical centers, clinics, and hospitals. On the other hand, these sites must have sufficient trained personnel, the necessary equipment to guard the doses, and adequate space to be able to vaccinate a large number of people.
Therefore, at this stage, Pfizer’s vaccine also presents greater operational limitations to maintain the required cold chain.
- Distribution models
In terms of distribution logistics, it is necessary to consider different options for the design of the supply chain. The options will depend on temperature requirements, transport distances, and volumes to be distributed, as well as related aspects: cost, delivery time, storage capacity, and availability of packaging and equipment.
Most likely, during the first months of vaccination, the direct shipment model will be used, in pallets or boxes, directly from the point of manufacture to the final destination by truck or air. This might make sense for initial global distribution or in cases where vaccination points are close to the point of manufacture.
While the solution of using local distribution centers presents a greater stock guarantee. However, it requires storage centers to receive large volumes and infrastructure for the storage, handling, and division of large units into “package” sized units for storage and subsequent daily last-mile delivery. This seems a more medium-term solution, perhaps when a higher degree of vaccine stabilization is achieved and temperature and handling requirements are less aggressive.
- Coordination and traceability
Vaccine distribution requires new, accurate, and precise coordination between all actors involved in the supply chain. Relevant data should be collected and shared rapidly among health experts, scientists, and supply chain experts.
This information should be used to improve the plans of the competent authorities in all countries. Vaccine delivery requires global collaboration and a specific and feasible design for last-mile deliveries to vaccination centers.
Vaccination success also requires traceability: batch control and standardized serialization of vials. The pharmaceutical industry and logistics are widely recognized for the efficiency and traceability of their operations. In fact, their techniques, standards, and protocols are replicated in other markets that deal with highly sensitive goods, such as the food industry, cosmetics, or dangerous goods.
In fact, pharmaceutical logistics has already proven to be technologically prepared. The challenge now is to have sufficient capacity to cope with volumes (in the billions) never seen before.
The logistics chain for covid-19 vaccines. (2021). Published by: Elite Logistics. Retrieved from https://www.elitelogis.com/