Covid-19 vaccine: A logistical challenge like no other in history
Everyone is talking about the invention of Covid-19 vaccine. However, are our supply chains capable enough to ensure the last mile delivery of the vaccine in a viable and timely manner ?
By Hirak Kayal
Everyone is talking about the invention of Covid-19 vaccine. However, are our supply chains capable enough to ensure the last mile delivery of the vaccine in a viable and timely manner ? Time is running out and pre-existing shortcomings in the supply chain need to be addressed now. We can safely say that Covid-19 vaccine is the most awaited product of our lifetime with unprecedented demand over the coming months and years, creating arguably the most complex large-scale logistical scenario the world has ever witnessed.
Transportation of the Covid-19 vaccine
The vaccine will need to be distributed via a temperature-controlled cold chain, which are highly sensitive and require constant quality and condition checks. Compounding the issue, cold chain logistics are particularly difficult in warmer climates, and in the Indian climate this could be a significant obstacle. According to a report by the International Air Transport Association’s Center of Excellence for Independent Validators in Pharmaceutical Logistics, 25 per cent of vaccines are degraded by the time they arrive at their destination while temperature errors cause losses around US$ 34.1 billion annually.
According to the initial reports, some of these vaccines need to be stored at -70C, whereas in India no company has the capability or capacity to transport vaccines colder than -25 degrees Celsius. Indian government has already initiated a cold chain augmentation plan to address the additional cold chain space required for the vaccine. The sources said there will be a temporary requirement (two-three months) of surge capacity for large cold storage at the state and regional level to store and distribute large incoming quantities of the vaccine.
Quality assurance and preventing counterfeits
A chain of custody will need to be maintained at every step of the supply chain – to ensure a verifiable transcript of the vaccine’s lifecycle and journey. And traceability is a must considering a long history of counterfeiting in the pharmaceutical supply chain. Considering the unprecedented demand for Covid-19 vaccinations the question arises that how can we track and verify every dose to ensure counterfeits aren’t being delivered to vulnerable populations. Blockchain could provide the answer. Blockchain offers a way to record transactions on a distributed ledger for security, transparency, and accuracy. The tamperproof nature of blockchain, hand-in-hand with advanced technology such as sensors and Internet-connected (Internet of Things or IOT) devices enables all parties in a supply chain network to record transactions at each stage of the product’s journey. For example, a sensor installed on a delivery truck can tell when the truck stops or detect when the door opens. That data is then recorded on the blockchain ledger, which would flag an issue with the shipment. This combined use of blockchain and IoT technology would prevent counterfeit products from sneaking into the supply chain.
Administration of the vaccine – the real test
Unfortunately, the last leg of the vaccine’s journey might be the trickiest. Similar to the issues some markets have faced in Covid-19 testing, determining the sites for administration of the vaccine will be a huge challenge.
Can India find new areas for administration or will existing COVID test spaces be the best option? Pharmacy capacity is limited, so will the majority of vaccinations take place at already resource-constrained hospitals? Are larger facilities like theme parks, stadiums, under-utilised airports, or vacant retail spaces an option? And should there be separate facilities for senior citizens, expectant mothers and children? How can a vast country like India make sure that not no one remains without the vaccine? Even if one person is left without the vaccine, the whole exercise will be rendered useless.
The post-launch challenges
Distributors will also need to consider the possibility of recalls, which will heavily burden an already over-taxed supply chain. Since it’s logistically impossible to vaccinate everyone in a first wave, distributors will need to develop standalone strategies for multiple waves.
With many companies still relying on decades-old technology, the distribution of the vaccine will witness a never seen before level of demand and complexity. The aging back-office systems that many logistics companies are relying on are not capable of managing the scale and complexity of the task at hand. This is why many organisations are turning to flexible and scalable SaaS applications for supply chain and re-architecting their operations to be able to leverage innovative technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain to improve efficiency.
Now is the time to begin preparations ahead of the vaccine launch to ensure its journey through the supply chain is smooth and effortless.
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