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The global race for COVID-19 vaccines is on and Asia is not left behind in ensuring its population receives the vaccines to fight the pandemic. With each passing day, we are reading of more Asian markets announcing agreements with drug manufacturers.
At the time of writing, markets including Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia have already set in motion the necessary steps to obtain the vaccines. Indonesia has ordered over 125 million doses from Sinovac Biotech and 30 million from Novavax, as well as also developing its version of the vaccine. Both Singapore and Malaysia have sealed agreements with Pfizer, with the latter ordering over 12.8 million doses to be delivered in 2021.
Following our recent article on the opportunities and challenges to bringing the vaccine to Asia, as one of Asia’s biggest vaccine distributors, DKSH believes that it is important for industries, businesses and consumers to know these three key points about how these vaccines will be distributed across Asia.
As governments rush to get the vaccines, the next step will be to ensure that they have the resources and manpower to deliver them to the people. And that is not going to be an easy task; perhaps it will be even more resource-intensive than vaccine development itself.
The substantial increase in volume, ranging from millions to billions of doses, means that each market must carefully determine the resources they will need for effective storage, distribution, handling and the workforce requirements to deliver and administer nationwide vaccinations at scale.
Singapore’s plans to vaccinate its population of more than five million and Thailand’s strategy to inoculate 50 percent of its population by the end of the year are going to face various manpower challenges. Logistical considerations with packaging and cold chain requirements as well as physical distancing to limit human contact could also hamper delivery and uptake. With Thailand’s recent outbreak of cases, the pressure to deliver a vaccine is even higher than it was before.
DHL estimates that global vaccine coverage will take around 200,000 pallet shipments and 15 million deliveries in cooling boxes as well as 15,000 flights. The vaccine will most likely travel by air since most container ships are not equipped to carry and keep the vaccines cool.
Once vaccines are available, governments will need to map out their distribution plans including to rural, villages and urban areas. These plans must include how health departments will administer and track vaccines to hard-to-reach populations, such as those that are mobile, in conflict, lack formal identities, or are otherwise unidentifiable. Advocacy and communications on allocation criteria and benefits must play an important part in the delivery process to mitigate the effects of misinformation and mistrust around vaccines. Most vaccines require two doses for inoculation to be complete, so patient tracking and adherence will also be a crucial aspect of these plans.
Read more on DSKH’s patient support services program on how to better extend your reach to patients in your market.
Once the vaccines are available, it does not end there. Stockpiles of vaccine-related goods need to be readily available and stored safely. These include things like syringes, glass vials, refrigerated containers to move and store the vaccine, and the list goes on.
Cambodia has commenced construction of a new USD 6 million warehouse located in Phnom Penh that is expected to be operational by the third quarter of 2021. The 6,300 square meter warehouse will become the nation’s largest pharmaceutical warehouse and increase its cold storage capacity by four times.
In India, authorities have converted an entire floor in a building in Mumbai into a cold storage facility for vaccines. This is in addition to its existing cold storage capacity at four medical colleges in the city. Over in Thailand, they have expanded the capacity with a new cold chain room spanning over 4,000 square meters.
Having recognized this need for more storage space, Singapore’s Changi Airport has set out to become the COVID-19 vaccine distribution hub for Southeast Asia by boosting its cold storage capacity and forming a task force to oversee the project.
Other key issues to consider include strengthening vaccine storage, quality assurance and distribution systems with information systems to track every dose that has been administered
Vaccines going into Asian markets will require cold temperatures for storage to keep them stable and viable. The antigen, the component that provides the immunization, degrades quickly if not kept at a specific temperature. Several different protein antigens are currently already used around the world and even the most resilient ones will require cooling to at least 2-8 degrees.
The end-to-end temperature control and other storage and handling factors could be a hurdle for low-income markets that do not have the required infrastructure to store and distribute to their population. In preparation, logistics companies like UPS, FedEx and DHL are also getting ready to handle vaccines that need cold storage. DHL has opened a new cold facility in the US while FedEx has been adding freezers and refrigerated lorries to its fleet. UPS has built two new freezer farms in the Netherlands and the US to house 600 deep freezers that can reach temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees Celsius.
While all the well-known freight forwarders are able to deliver the vaccines to the airport warehouses or ports, they won’t be able to reach the point of care in the hospital, clinic or vaccination center. This is where DKSH comes in, to ensure that the “last mile” is covered and the vaccine actually reaches the consumer.
DKSH’s Total Quality Management for Cold Chain solution is a method for cold chain management to ensure the high quality of temperature-sensitive products successfully reaches designated patients across Asia.
Delivering the COVID-19 vaccine to people across Asia may not be so straightforward and is a task that requires an extensive network of shipping, storage, freezing, communication and healthcare services to achieve the “last mile” of the journey.
Governments and healthcare agencies in all markets must be supported by experienced distribution and logistics partners with the knowledge and supply chain facilities that are capable of handling, storing and delivering the vaccines to their population.
Reach out to us to find out more about how your business can benefit from better handling, storage and delivery of vaccines across Asia.