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Covid-19 Vaccines Distribution: Logistics Operators Getting Ready

The whole world is anticipating getting the Covid-19 vaccines and governments around the world are debating the timeline for offering Covid-19 vaccines to the public. Problem is inoculations for the new coronavirus will require thousands of extra flights, taxing stretched airlines.

There will be an inevitable scramble to deliver vaccines as they become available; it is an open question, though, whether the global community will support getting deep-frozen vaccines to the entire world in a timely manner. In either case, the logistics network for life sciences is taking a giant step forward.

Cold Storage
Logistics providers are building giant cold-storage facilities, or “freezer farms,” and lining up equipment and transportation capacity as they gear up for the rapid delivery of millions of doses of potential coronavirus vaccines around the world.

Drug makers have been racing to build supply chains for their coronavirus vaccine candidates, finding manufacturing sites and ordering specialized production equipment. As some drugs advance to final-stage clinical trials, logistics providers are preparing to deliver them securely.

The distribution operation—taking drugs from far-flung manufacturing sites to medical teams via warehouses, cargo terminals, airports, and final storage points, all in a matter of days—promises to be a logistics high-wire act with risks at every stage. Breakdowns in refrigeration equipment, transportation delays, broken packaging or other mishaps could leave many thousands of doses useless.

Shipping companies say they are preparing as much as they can while waiting for information from vaccine makers and the U.S. government about details such as how many vials they will need to handle, the dimensions of the vaccines’ packaging and the timing of the distribution.

Logistics operators have been expanding their refrigeration and freezing capabilities in recent years, particularly as the health-care industry has grown and pharmaceutical transport has become a bigger business. Once vaccines are ready to move, the doses will head into airfreight networks that have been roiled during the pandemic by the grounding of thousands of passenger flights, which has removed large amounts of capacity usually available in cargo holds. And if distribution begins during the peak holiday shipping season in November or December, companies will be shipping the drugs when cargo space is at a premium.