Thursday December 09, 2021

Logistics firms face ‘immense’ challenges to deliver COVID-19 vaccines, DHL warns

Successful worldwide transportation and delivery of billions of coronavirus vaccine doses as soon as this autumn could pose ‘immense’ challenges for logistics companies who will need to scale up capacity rapidly, DHL warned today.

Global delivery of an estimated 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines – which might have to be stored at -80°C – could require up to 200,000 pallet shipments, about 15,000 flights and approximately 15 million deliveries in cooling boxes through different medical supply chains, the logistics company said in a new White Paper on ‘Delivering Pandemic Resilience’.

New public-private partnerships may therefore be necessary to handle this gigantic task, DHL said. In addition, deliveries to remote regions of Africa, Asia and South America could prove especially difficult, according to the company.

Moreover, logistics experts noted that worldwide corona vaccine deliveries this autumn would also have to be handled by logistics companies at the same time as the traditional pre-Christmas peak season for parcel deliveries. This is expected to be much bigger this year due to the e-commerce boom that the pandemic has generated.

DHL shares experiences of health crisis

The DHL White Paper, produced in cooperation with consultants McKinsey & Company, examines how to deliver stable logistics for vaccines and medical goods during COVID-19, and future health crises. In particular, DHL evaluates how the transport of vaccines as a highly temperature-sensitive product can be managed effectively to combat the further spread of the virus.

“The COVID-19 crisis emerged with an unprecedented breadth and impact. It required governments, businesses, and the logistics industry alike to adapt quickly to new challenges. As a world leader in logistics, we want to share our experience of operating during one of the biggest health crises in recent history, in order to develop strategies in an ever-more connected world,” commented Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer at DHL.

“To protect lives against the pandemic, governments have moved towards a more active role in medical supply chains. Over the past few months, we have demonstrated that sufficient planning and appropriate partnerships within the supply chain can play a key role as governments work to secure critical medical supplies during health emergencies such as this,” she added.

New medical logistics supply chains for corona vaccines

More than 250 COVID-19 vaccines across seven platforms are being developed and trialed at present, and the first emergency use authorizations are expected to be effective in the last quarter of 2020, according to the White Paper.

Given that COVID-19 vaccines have leapfrogged development phases, stringent temperature requirements (up to -80°C) are likely to be imposed for certain vaccines to ensure that their efficacy is maintained during transportation and warehousing. This poses novel logistics challenges to the existing medical supply chain that conventionally distributes vaccines at ~2–8°C, DHL explained.

The scope of this task is immense, DHL pointed out. It estimates that to provide global coverage of COVID-19 vaccines, up to ~200,000 pallet shipments and ~15 million deliveries in cooling boxes as well as ~15,000 flights will be required across the various supply chain set-ups.

As a result, logistics providers are challenged to rapidly establish medical supply chains to deliver serums of unparalleled amounts of more than ten billion doses worldwide.

DHL itself already has extensive logistics capabilities and services for the life sciences and healthcare industry, with more than 9,000 specialists working across its dedicated global network. This includes 150+ pharmacists, 20+ clinical trials depots, 100+ certified stations, 160+ GDP-qualified warehouses, 15+ GMP-certified sites, 135+ medical express sites, and a time-definite international express network covering 220 countries and territories.

Meanwhile, rivals UPS and FedEx are currently rapidly expanding their medical logistics capabilities, according to recent US media reports. UPS, for example, is building giant cold-storage facilities (‘freezer farms’) at its Louisville air hub and at its healthcare logistics facility in Venlo, Netherlands (about 120km from its Europe air hub at Cologne/Bonn Airport).

Future public health crisis management to include public-private partnerships

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, demand for medical supplies has surged. For example, UNICEF sourced 100 times more face masks and 2,000 times more medical gloves than in 2019, according to the report.

“Bringing medical supplies from their distant sources to use at the frontline has been one of the most crucial activities in pandemic response management in the first phase of the health emergency”, DHL noted. For PPE specifically, inbound logistics were a major challenge due to geographically concentrated production, limited airfreight capacity and a lack of inbound quality checks. 

Looking ahead, DHL underlined that to ensure stable medical supply in a future health crisis, a comprehensive setup of public health crisis strategies and structures needs to be established by governments with partnerships from both public and private sectors.

To kick start the dialogue among the different actors and improve pandemic resilience in medical supply logistics, DHL aims to provide a framework for the cooperation of logistics companies with authorities, politicians, NGOs as well as the life sciences industry. The framework helps to establish measures to ensure the most stable and safe supply chains possible.

Besides an emergency response plan, this includes a partnership network, strong physical logistics infrastructure and IT-enabled supply chain transparency. Lastly, a response unit with a clear mandate should be put in place to implement all critical activities at short notice, the White Paper recommended.

SourceDeutsche Post DHL Group, CEP-Research

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