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The transport of COVID-19 vaccines will require logistics providers to rapidly establish medical supply chains to deliver more than 10 billion doses worldwide, according to a new report from DHL.

DHL in a new whitepaper said a stable medical supply chain is needed for delivery of vaccines and medical goods as more than 250 vaccine candidates are currently being developed and trialed. This means first emergency-use authorizations for COVID-19 vaccines are expected in the last quarter of 2020, requiring transport of more than 10 billion doses across the world.

As 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 more or less 2°C to -8°C, said DHL.

“The scope of this task is immense: 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,” it added.

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.

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

“The height of the first wave of COVID-19 infections revealed several logistics-related challenges in two links of the supply chain—inbound logistics and distribution. Particularly as related to personal protective equipment (PPE), product-quality issues, constrained transportation capacity, complex customs processes and regulations increasing the risk of delays, warehousing challenges, and limited transparency regarding stock levels all posed significant problems,” said the paper.

Although supplies of PPE are flowing better now, the work to improve the medical products supply chain is by no means finished. Vaccines are in development, but their ability to end this pandemic depends on an effective supply chain that can connect diverse production locations to the public.

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, said the research.

“From the onset, Asia was in the cockpit of the supply race with millions of PPE and test kits shipped out of China and South Korea respectively,” added Leonora Lim, head of life science and healthcare, DHL Customer Solutions and Innovation, Asia Pacific.

“The delivery of vaccines would be a completely different ball game however given the scale of distribution and strict temperature requirements. A close partnership between the public and private sectors would address the urgent need for a viable medical supply chain that will preserve the integrity of these vaccines and have them delivered to over 200 countries and territories in a timely fashion.”

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

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