The distribution of Covid-19 vaccines is picking up speed across the globe. While we in the logistics sector are supporting the rollout, it is essential to note some of the limitations, namely pressure on air transport and ocean logistics transportation. Overland transport has been playing a major role, as expected from the very beginning of the vaccine distribution planning.
The challenging development that the world has experienced over the past many months can only be reversed now by extensive vaccination. Therefore, this continues to be a major focus of our daily lives.
Vaccine Development Outlook
Vaccines typically require years of research and testing before they are ready to be administered to patients. However, given the virus’ threat to human life, safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines were produced in record time. Since March 2021, researchers tested 76 vaccines in clinical trials, and 22 had reached the final stages of testing. Six vaccines were approved for full use and seven received approval for limited/emergency use; four vaccines were abandoned after trials.
Medical supplies - Supply of infection prevention and control items (IPC) and personal protective equipment (PPE) contributes to the logistics challenge of distributing and administering an effective Covid-19 vaccine. This covers laboratory and diagnostic supplies, oxygen and medical equipment, and medicines, in addition to waste management. So far, we have not seen significant market issues, but they are expected to be more visible once we get additional vaccines on the market and production picks up, especially during the administration of vaccines in developing regions.
Status of the Covid-19 pandemic - The pandemic is still evolving in some regions of the world. New and more contagious strains have worsened the situation considerably, leading to expanded and prolonged lockdowns. Individual countries have tried to stock up on vaccines and are now all waiting impatiently for their quotas. Globally, around 120 million persons have registered as having or having had Covid-19 and 83 million people have been fully vaccinated, with 360 million Covid-19 vaccines administered.
Evolving Logistics Needs
We know that pharma cold chains are highly complex and need to mitigate risk at all cost to maintain the integrity of the products. Customers want control, flexibility and transparency. They require the ability to switch transportation modes in case of deviations or disruptions, to ensure the safe and timely distribution of their product.
Let’s look at the most recent developments in the logistics sector.
Air transport and logistics impact - Even though global freight capacity has increased and is currently higher than the 2019 levels, overall air freight capacity continues to be impacted and is below the levels registered for the same period in 2019, confirming the continued impact on air freight. Rates have increased anywhere between two-fold to five-fold. Some routes have been badly hit, and although some airlines are beginning to resume partial services, capacity is still limited.
Overland transportation is essential - We know that slightly more than half of all vaccines will be produced at a local/regional level. Consequently, we will see high demand for overland transport. There is an extremely high volume of temperature-controlled trucks transporting the Covid-19 vaccines, in most cases provided by local specialists or organised on a government level with high usage of temperature-controlled boxes.
Ocean shipping constraints - There are constraints in each step of the supply chain, and one of the most crucial steps is the short supply of ocean containers. There are challenges to the standard dynamics as we continue to see port delays due to labour shortages, customs inspections, deficit of additional vessels and capacity, increasing rates, and inland distribution constraints that add complexity to ocean transport. The existing supply chain issues are related to a broader issue impacted by many variables, resulting in a drop in global schedules reliability. This situation does not impact the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines directly but creates challenges for the distribution of much-needed supportive medical supplies.
Supply Chain Security & Cyber Security
There are increased risks regarding supply chain security and cyber security threats against companies involved with the production and distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine. Pharmaceutical supply chains are already among the most regulated, safe and secure of any industry. A missing temperature record could result in cargo being quarantined.
Ensuring the secure transportation, storage and delivery of every pharmaceutical shipment is key to ensuring product integrity and patient safety. It is important to avoid any disruption to the delivery process and protect the integrity of vaccines on their way to patients. This can be achieved by assessing the associated cargo security risks continuously as there are entities who target shipments, not only to gain profit but to disturb the supply chain process by exposing the vaccines to temperature deviations.
Since the early stages of the Covid-19 vaccine development and regulatory approvals, cyber threats have been utilised as means to achieve financial gains or advance national interests. The potential consequences of cyber-attacks vary depending on the motives. Their goal could be intellectual property theft, counterfeiting of the vaccine, ransomware attacks, and eventually vaccine destruction and damage. Therefore, it is important to consider mitigation controls, strengthen cyber security protocols and implement appropriate security controls.