The Covid-19 Vaccine Logistics Puzzle

The whole world is anxious to go back to “normal” after nearly a year of a global pandemic. The ability to return to life as usual hinges on an effective and widely available Covid-19 vaccine.

Recent news created optimism as several US pharmaceutical companies — including Pfizer and Moderna — announced vaccines that have seen highly effective results in clinical trials. While these announcements came with excitement, the discussion is now around how the vaccine will be distributed throughout the country and the world.

Experts have been saying that it will take time — months and likely even years — to ensure everyone in the world is vaccinated. However, there are additional logistical challenges with these vaccines.

On top of the need for widespread vaccinations globally, there are some concerns that need to be addressed around how the vaccine is stored, how it’s tracked throughout the process, and how it’s transported. These challenges add to the already complicated distribution and logistics scenario.

The Sheer Volume of Vaccine Shipments Is Putting Pressure on the Supply Chain

Pharma companies are pros when it comes to shipping perishable and valuable goods. Most Vaccine’s and medications need to be stored and transported in temperature controlled conditions, so what makes the Covid-19 vaccine more complex? Many concerns stem from the scale.

With pressure to vaccinate as many people globally as fast as possible, even the largest pharmaceutical distributors will likely be shipping at scale not seen before in such a short period of time and in some cases five to ten times more than usual. And many will see an even larger volume increase. This causes questions around equipment, device and reefer capacity as well as pressure on how to track of all the shipments to manage the exceptions where things have gone wrong.

On top of the magnitude of shipments, the distribution for a new medication or vaccine would typically be tested and optimized over time. Just as the development of the vaccine itself was expedited, so will the distribution planning process. This is not to say distribution isn’t being meticulously planned, however, it will put pressure to ensure logistics and transportation processes are running swiftly and efficiently and exemplify the need for accurate and real time information.

Temperature Monitoring Is Key for Safe Shipment of Covid-19 Vaccine

All Vaccines need to be stored and transported in a temperature controlled environment, but Pfizer’s vaccine needs to be kept at an extreme negative 70 degrees Celsius. Moderna’s vaccine does not need the same level of extreme cold, yet it does need to be kept at negative 20 degrees Celsius.

While there are many different protocols for packaging, transporting, managing risk, adhering to compliance standards and storing these vaccines, it’s critical to monitor the temperature during transit to ensure the stability of the vaccine.

Working with pharmaceutical and food companies, project44 has built condition monitoring functionality to help address this cold chain challenge. With real-time temperature monitoring, alerts can be configured to let the appropriate stakeholders know when a shipment is moving out of the required temperature range, allowing drivers and the operations team to take action and resolve the issue before it’s too late.

This level of real-time insight will be very important when it comes to the Covid-19 vaccine. Without the most accurate and timely temperature data and excursion management, the vaccine could be at risk of being damaged.

Depending on Real-Time Transportation Visibility when the Clock Is Ticking

In addition to closely monitoring specific temperature conditions, the volume and scale will make it more challenging than usual to ensure all the shipments go where they’re supposed to and arrive on time.

Because the vaccine needs to make it to every corner of the country, and will ship across multiple modes of transportation, having real-time transportation visibility becomes even more critical. The challenge is magnified once you start shipping global and have to deal with longer travel times, multiple stops, more complex networks, weaker controls, and varying regulations by country.

Pharmaceutical companies have also come to rely on real-time visibility because of the value of their shipments, and we could argue that the stakes are even higher than normal with this vaccine. The partnership between product protection and security is now critical and its even more important to have the tools to collaborate with and have the correct visibility to provide the watchful eye on these valuable shipments.

Building Agility throughout the Supply Chain

Those producing, distributing, and transporting the Covid-19 vaccine will be put to the test. In the end, as every supply chain has seen this year, it will require agility. They’ll need to gain visibility across the supply chain and adjust plans as needed.

To ensure the vaccines are transported seamlessly — both to get to the public faster and safely — real-time visibility is a necessity.