Vaccine logistics - the ultimate challenge of an unprecedented year

Logistics plays a central role in managing the coronavirus crisis

-

At a time when the largest immunization campaign in history is intensifying, disparities between countries are growing. Where are they coming from? Mainly logistical problems linked to the difficulty of moving, storing and distributing a particularly sensitive product.

Vaccine logistics - the ultimate challenge of an unprecedented year


In times of crisis, "amateurs talk about strategy. Professionals talk about logistics". For American General Omar Bradley, one of the thinking minds behind the landings, nothing great can be achieved without well-oiled logistics. After a year 2020, in which logistics proved to be the backbone of an economy shaken by the coronavirus crisis, these words resonate all the more strongly in the collective imagination.

Against a backdrop of changes in distribution channels, a drastic increase in demand for some products and a collapse in sales for others, it was a busy year for logistics professionals. In the face of these challenges, logistics has not only proven its vital importance, but also its ability to adapt quickly to the ever-changing rules imposed by the crisis.

Yet the most complex logistical challenge is still ahead. It is even the basis for a return to normal life. Indeed, following the discovery in record time of several effective vaccines against the virus, logisticians are preparing to distribute them worldwide. The delivery of the vaccine presents an unprecedented challenge and could in itself determine the success of vaccination campaigns. Indeed, the vaccine may exist and be 100% effective, but if it does not reach the population in time, it will not reach its target.

In this article, find out how the industry is preparing for the largest logistics operation in decades. Why, beyond the unprecedented volume, does the vaccine present unprecedented challenges for the industry? What tools and techniques can help logisticians adapt to the new challenges posed by the vaccine?


Where are we with the vaccines?

Several vaccines have passed the final stages of testing and have been available since the end of the year. In particular, vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on the one hand, and by Moderna on the other. The vaccine developed by Sanofi, on which France had wagered, will unfortunately not be available before the end of the first half of 2021.

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have applied for emergency approval from health authorities to deploy the vaccine as early as January 2020. France has already pre-booked 90 million doses that will arrive from the first quarter of 2021.

Vaccination started very quickly, on January 7, 2021, with a wide disparity between countries. While some have already vaccinated several million people, others, such as France, are lagging behind. This is mainly due to logistical issues.


Strong disparities in terms of vaccination at the beginning of January - Image credit: BFMTV



Why is this a logistical challenge?

The requirement for an extreme cold chain

Composed of messenger RNA (mRNA) fragments that degrade at room temperature, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines should be stored at -80°C and -20°C respectively to preserve their efficacy. A strict cold chain must therefore be followed from the time the vaccines leave the laboratory until they are administered, a process that can take several weeks and involve several hand changes. 

Although there are logistics infrastructures capable of handling this type of temperature, they are very limited in number in France and elsewhere in the world. Indeed, conventional refrigerators are at temperatures of 2°C to 8°C, and those used in professional warehouses for food preservation can only go down to -25°C. 


A commonly available solution is to work on the vaccine formulation to improve its stability at higher temperatures. Unfortunately, this requires years of work, which is clearly not an option in the current pandemic context. As a reminder, the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 has exceeded 18 million in Europe and 62 million worldwide, with nearly one and a half million deaths.

After the development of an effective vaccine in record time, it is up to the logisticians to adapt to the technical constraints that this speed has created. Many warehouses will have to equip themselves accordingly and many will have to equip themselves with "super freezers", such as those developed by the Frenchman Froilabo.


The super-freezers developed by Froillabo :

Image credit: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

As for the carriers, they will have to procure insulated containers, such as those used by the Frenchman Olivo, as well as dry ice (solidified carbon dioxide) which will have to be added regularly to the containers to maintain their temperature.


The insulated container developed by Olivo:

Image credit: Usine Nouvelle

A historic volume to be distributed in record time

In addition to respecting the cold chain, logisticians are engaged in a race against time. As previously mentioned, the vaccine is eagerly awaited to put an end to a pandemic that has been shaking the entire planet for more than a year.

The operation is on an unprecedented scale: the aim is to deliver 10 to 15 billion doses of vaccine throughout the world. In France alone, several hundred million doses must be delivered. This is an operation that has never been attempted before, even in the context of other pandemics such as H1N1.

To ensure high-speed distribution, solutions must be found at every stage of the supply chain. For example, it will be necessary to speed up customs procedures and allow more airlines to land at regional airports to bring vaccines closer to patients.


An unprecedented mobilization of logistics players


As never before, vaccine delivery involves a wide range of institutional, economic and logistical actors. In this context, competition gives way to cooperation, as no single company can manage the volumes involved.

Logistics giants such as DHL, UPS, Fedex, or Kuehne+Nagel have been preparing for months for the arrival of the vaccines. In September, the latter announced the opening of airport logistics hubs dedicated to pharmaceuticals and healthcare, with direct access to the tarmac, in Brussels (Belgium) and Johannesburg (South Africa). The same applies to airlines, which are mobilizing despite their vulnerability due to travel restrictions. Air France KLM, for example, has set up an internal task force to draw up its action plan for distributing the vaccine. The airline has already set up temperature-controlled rooms at its Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam-Schiphol hubs.

However, there are still many uncertainties that prevent optimal preparation, such as the date of availability of the vaccines, their place of production, or the vaccination strategy of the various countries (number of people to be vaccinated, vaccination points, etc.).

Why is this a logistical challenge?

While the mobilization of the various logistics actors is good news, the question of their coordination arises, especially in such short timeframes. The French government has set up a "vaccine task force", led by senior civil servant Louis-Charles Viossat and composed of several dozen people, to organize the logistics of the vaccine in France. The task force can therefore be expected to produce a national action plan and indications of the logistical capacities required.

But the practical aspect of this coordination remains problematic. Only real-time communication of information between all the players can ensure reliable and efficient vaccine logistics. Experts agree that the solution lies in the adoption of digital tools. In its press release on vaccine distribution, the France Supply Chain association recommends the use of digital solutions to "ensure this complex cross-functional management and its execution". Similarly, in its white paper on Supply Chain Resilience during a Pandemic, DHL advocates the use of consolidated IT tools to share information in real time in order to inform logistics decisions and ensure the traceability of medical supplies.

At SpaceFill, we believe strongly in large-scale collaboration between logisticians. This is why we are developing an online flow management platform that is easily accessible to all stakeholders. The combination of these two elements is the foundation of the logistics cloud, an approach to the Supply Chain in networks of distributed and connected logistics nodes in real time. For more information, see our white paper on the subject.

As Maxime Legardez, CEO of Everoad by Sennder, the European leader in digital freight transport, said in a recent interview, "2020 has been a difficult but pivotal and useful year for all logistics professionals".

The Covid-19 crisis has at least put logistics in the spotlight by demonstrating its central role in the economy. Now it is facing its biggest challenge in decades. Once again, we are confident in its ability to meet it.



Find space for your goods

SpaceFill brings you the best storage solution close to your needs thanks to its network of 3000 logistic warehouses.

Problem? Question?
Contact us directly

01 88 24 12 12
pasquier logo
plg logo
postage-paid logo
ruby logo

What is your storage requirement?

Thank you. We will contact you as soon as possible.
Oops! Thank you for filling out the form

Our resources

Discover how digital is transforming logistics

Find space for your goods

SpaceFill brings you the best storage solution close to your needs thanks to its network of 3000 logistic warehouses.

Problem? Question?
Contact us directly

01 88 24 12 12
pasquier logo
plg logo
postage-paid logo
ruby logo

What is your storage requirement?

Thank you. We will contact you as soon as possible.
Oops! Thank you for filling out the form