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Logistics sector faces vast challenges in global rollout of COVID-19 vaccine

With 443 million people across the world now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, it is no exaggeration to say that the distribution of these lifesaving vaccines has been a monumental success story for the logistics sector.

While it has proved itself one of the most important assets in the world’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector has had to overcome vast obstacles to deliver these vaccine doses safely and swiftly. And with only 5.7% of the world’s population having received their second dose, many challenges still lie ahead as the vaccine rollout programme continues around the globe.  

The challenges the industry has had to overcome to reach this point in the vaccination programme have been significant, including stringent storage requirements, security, personnel, and capacity.   


In December 2020, the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) issued a warning to its member countries advising law enforcement organisations that criminal groups are targeting COVID-19 vaccine shipments. With some individual shipments valued as high as $70 million – and a single dose selling for around $200 on the dark web, according to Bloomberg sources – logistics businesses had to move quickly to train staff in the complex security, handling and monitoring requirements involved in medical transportation. Shipment security had to be watertight, with all systems able to cope with the requirements of transporting such a high volume of valuable commodities.  All those within the supply chain – from manufacturers, HGV drivers, scientists to nurses – were required from the start of the rollout programme to be confident in their ability to keep the vaccines, and themselves, safe against criminal activity.  


In addition to having a firm handle on the security requirements, individuals involved in the distribution of the vaccines needed to understand the complexities of transporting each different type of vaccine. For example, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine must be stored at ‘fridge temperature’ (2-8°C), whereas the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at around -70°C for it to be effective – making it much more challenging to transport. The vaccines must be stored effectively in temperature-controlled facilities when not in transit – facilities which needed to be constructed to cope with both the huge volumes and unique storage requirements. To give one example, UPS constructed two ‘freezer farms’ in the Netherlands and the USA, which hold a total of 600 deep-freezers, each capable of holding 48,000 vials of vaccine at temperatures as low as -80C. Many airline operators have sought innovative solutions for the transportation of vaccines by air, maintaining and monitoring temperatures at all stages of transport. For example, temperature controlled, reusable packaging and the use of specialised aprons and dollies to protect against weather while shipments are being moved from a plane and across tarmac to storage.  


As logistics businesses continue the global vaccination rollout programme, the restrictions placed on passenger travel following the COVID-19 outbreak pose a constant challenge to the ability of the air cargo industry to operate effectively with reduced capacity, and will continue to do so until passenger flight levels return closer to normality. Until passenger flight levels resume, a continued expansion in available slots for dedicated freight flights would help to bridge the trade gap.  

“The logistics sector is playing an instrumental role in the ongoing success of the rollout programme,” said Zoe McLernon, Multimodal Policy Manager, Logistics UK, “Whatever challenges lie ahead, it is always ready to adapt quickly to continue delivering for the global population.”


Published On: 10/06/2021 17:00:41


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