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The numbers alone reflect the mammoth task ahead for everyone: over 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines are to be delivered across the world within the next two years: more than 15 million deliveries in cooling boxes, 200,000 movements by pallet shippers and 15,000 flights across the various supply chain setups.
Several markets in Asia have already started their COVID-19 vaccine inoculation programs. The region is bound to provide challenges for vaccine manufacturers and logistics providers with its own set of hurdles including existing infrastructure, access to remote areas and temperature control challenges.
As a panelist at the recent Makers and Movers cold chain 2021 virtual summit on global access and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, I highlighted the four approaches to overcome the distribution challenges ahead for Asian markets.
Much of the focus is on how the vaccines are being moved around the world but the real challenge comes from distributing them within the market itself. Within Southeast Asia alone, there are different challenges in different markets. The climate, different laws, and regulations on healthcare distribution and transportation infrastructure to name just a few vary significantly from one market to another.
As such, the vaccine manufacturer and local authorities must work with an established healthcare distributor who is familiar with each market’s nuances and its regulations. The distributor must have the required storage facilities and logistics network to deliver the vaccines to a vast network of healthcare providers to reach all points of care, which are often spread out over a vast geographic area.
The ultra-frozen temperature requirement for certain vaccines is not the biggest hurdle when it comes to the distribution challenges, as the storage capacity is already widely available. What is more important to achieve a successful rapid rollout of the vaccines, is a strong collaboration between the manufacturers and logistic providers.
The biggest challenges lie in the swiftness of the delivery, vast geographical coverage, thoroughness of the cold chain processes, and finally, the ability to get the vaccines out to the individual healthcare provider. As the antigen, the component that provides the immunization degrades quickly if not kept at a specific temperature, they will require a consistent temperature during storage and transportation to keep them stable and viable.
Manufacturers and/or governments should choose a distribution partner that has the proven expertise in delivering emergency medicine and vaccines throughout the market, including remote areas.
We all know that none of the involved organizations are managing the COVID-19 vaccines out of pure altruism. But what any organization involved must do is to be real about where their strengths lie and where they need to work with others to achieve the overarching goal of eradicating the virus through inoculations. This could mean partnering with competitors and other companies to do whatever is necessary to ensure the success of the vaccine rollout. This is not merely a commercial opportunity for one organization and I believe there is a moral obligation for all organizations involved.
One aspect of the vaccine distribution that is not highlighted enough is the importance of data throughout the cold chain. At DKSH, it is crucial that temperature-sensitive products are handled in a compliant manner throughout the inbound, storage, packaging and transport. Cold chain temperature monitoring and data logging are important to track if the products have maintained proper temperatures.
DKSH in Thailand, for example, invented B-Box, a temperature-controlled cold chain box that comes with a unique code on its label that enables tracking the exact delivery location of the package for inventory purposes. To get the vaccines to the right place at the right time, our fleet of cool trucks and packaging guarantees stable temperatures throughout their journey.
The innate challenges of COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Asia such as infrastructure and geographical coverage will need to be addressed and overcome. You should not have to worry about other considerations like local regulations, logistics network, temperature control, storage facilities and reaching the point of care. Reach out to an experienced business partner in your market who can help you overcome all these challenges and help deliver the COVID-19 vaccines correctly and quickly to the population.
Dan Culverhouse is currently Head of Supply Chain at DKSH. Dan has more than 25 years’ experience in Supply Chain Management including over 16 years working in international markets. Read more here.