Omnitracs' Road Ahead blog

With a COVID-19 vaccine nearing the end goal, supply chain leaders will need to be professional soccer players

Rula Ifteiha Photo
Rula Ifteiha
Content Specialist

The vaccines are likely coming.

Pfizer, one of the leading biopharmaceutical companies developing a coronavirus vaccine, and its collaborator, German biotechnology company BioNTech, released early results this Monday indicating their BNT162b2 vaccine prevented more than 90% of coronavirus infections in their trial participants.

While these results are preliminary, they are still highly promising. If all goes well, both companies should have enough safety and effectiveness data to submit an emergency approval request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by the third week of November. Pfizer will aim to produce 50 million doses of the vaccine this year and 1.3 billion in 2021. The U.S. government is providing around $2 billion for manufacturing and distribution efforts.

Moderna, AstraZeneca/Oxford University, and Johnson & Johnson are all in Phase 3 trials of their vaccine development. So, if these trials also lead to promising results and approval by the FDA, these companies will require strong manufacturing and logistics support to distribute the vaccine around the globe effectively.

As many in our industry understand, logistics and distribution in the supply chain require extensive planning at an intricate level. Throw in billions of highly anticipated and much-needed vaccines, and chaos can quickly ensue without the right preparation. Fortunately, calculated planning is possible if the pharmaceutical industry and supply chain sectors from air cargo to trucking take positions as professional soccer (or football for our LATAM and global friends) players would.   

Playing forward: The pharmaceutical industry

Companies like Pfizer have been working as the forward players in the mission to find a sustainable solution for COVID-19. The administration and distribution of mRNA vaccines the type of vaccine that Pfizer is testing is complicated. The strategy around distributing these doses effectively is particular, and it will likely start with Pfizer. The vaccine will need to be kept at below-freezing temperatures (around -94 degrees Fahrenheit) in a specialized freezer. This differs from the flu vaccine, which can be refrigerated.

Pfizer has developed a unique thermal shipping container for the vaccines to be stored in dry ice for up to 15 days. They can also be refrigerated for up to five days. Here’s where things get sticky. Unlike the flu vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, 21 days apart. So, scheduling is highly critical here. If planned effectively, encompassing pickup, transport, and delivery timelines, forward can pass to defense.  

Defense, defense: Air and sea transport

Pfizer aims to manufacture the vaccine in the U.S. for domestic recipients and Europe for the rest of its recipients. When non-domestic distribution begins taking up too much air-cargo space, the vaccines will be transferred via ocean containers. According to the Wall Street Journal, Pfizer plans to take cargo space on approximately 20 FedEx, United Parcel Service, and DHL planes per day. They will attempt to get the vaccines as close to distribution facilities, like hospitals and medical centers, as possible.

Here’s where defense comes in. Protecting the vaccines at this stage is of utmost importance. Air and sea travel will equate for the most time the vaccines are out of their manufacturing areas before they safely reach the intended population.

Coronavirus vaccines will arguably be the most valued commodity globally for at least six months at the start of distribution. As such, there could be many attempts at vaccine theft. Airlines and ocean shippers need to maintain open communication with governments and staff to ensure the vaccines remain highly monitored and protected every mile of the way. While governments and transportation leaders, like Air Canada, have been strategizing and preparing for vaccine transportation for months, communication, cooperation, and coordination must remain aligned as execution begins to kick off. If that happens, the world is in a position to score.

Ready, set, goal: Trucking and distribution

Last and far from least in this sports-centric analogy is the trucking industry. Trucking companies need to take truck staging areas, protocols for transport, and capacity needs into account, in conjunction with day-to-day routing and delivery schedules. Enhanced dispatching and routing solutions can help teams streamline communication and the overall transportation and delivery process at a time when organization and strategic planning have never been more critical.

As the final leg of transport, the most pressure falls on truckers and their teams to ensure effective delivery. Commentators might scoff at a forward or defensive player for making a mistake, but the most pressure and scrutiny or praise is reserved for the player tasked with the make-or-break goal shot. Fortunately, and as we all know, the trucking industry is full of team players who will make it their mission to deliver a winning goal.

Thanks for reading! Read more on emergency freight transport, and keep checking in to our Road Ahead Blog for thought leadership and industry tip and topics.