Vaccine logistics: technological solutions needed to fight Covid on a global scale
AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Covishield, names that give hope. The battle against the pandemic is on and scientific laboratories around the world are developing vaccines. Simple vaccines are only one side of the coin. The other is the journey to a patient. A single malfunction in the supply chain can do a lot more harm than just affect the business – it can steal someone’s chance for survival. Healthcare companies are struggling to cope with the scale of mass development: the processes of vaccine surveillance, tracing, storage, delivery and administration require innovative technologies to be transparent.
Supply chain disruptions happen all the time. The global pandemic has just exposed the problems that already exist and underscored their importance. If we take a look at a report that dates back to 2019, we will see that poor logistics destroy 25% of vaccines shipped. Temperature fluctuations cost health care providers up to nearly $ 35 billion a year.
Temperature risks are risks that can be mitigated by a new level of supply chain visibility. Smart IoT-based solutions have successfully addressed food industry issues, especially waste reduction. Ensuring transparency throughout the vaccine supply chain provides the context that is vital for the segment.
Let’s take a look at the current logistics needs to fight Covid-19 and the technologies that can make a difference.
Know where the gaps are
Despite the overall growth in freight capacity compared to 2019 tariffs, it remains very limited. Due to the fact that a large percentage of vaccines are produced locally, we expect an increase in demand for ground transportation and temperature-controlled containers. The capacity of the cold chain is crucial for vaccine logistics. Normally, medical supplies would be transported in temperatures between zero and eight degrees Celsius. As for the Pfizer vaccine, it requires a temperature below -70 ° Celsius. The truth is, modern supply chains are not prepared for this.
The problem mentioned above is followed by another. The distribution of vaccines in countries such as Africa, parts of South America and Asia is subject to specific storage requirements. Beyond the high temperatures themselves, these countries may not have the necessary infrastructure to ensure the integrity of the vaccine. Population figures in these areas, coupled with a huge demand for vaccines, will continue to hamper storage capacities.
Trucking organizations cannot handle the increasing volumes of freight. Given staff shortages – for example, lack of drivers – last mile delivery faces significant challenges. As a result, local pharmacies become responsible for the distribution of vaccines, which involves extensive training of employees. The stake is particularly tangible for the rural health establishments and the regions mentioned above.
Taken together, these gaps call for speed, increased flexibility, transparency and close collaboration among many stakeholders in vaccine logistics. Now I propose to discuss the facilitators.
Technology stack for vaccine logistics
In the case of Covid-19, the vaccine is not only sensitive when it comes to temperatures and weather, it is of enormous value. Additional risks specific to this virus are high exposure to theft, illegal activities such as sabotage and fraud. Smart sensor technologies can be used beyond temperature monitoring – they can be used for general sensing purposes. By supporting real-time tracking, the sensors provide constantly updated information on quality, condition and location. If there is a deviation from the standard, the alert system immediately raises red flags and makes adjustments.
The logistics of vaccines encompass various stakeholders. With the participation of governments, partnerships across global supply chains require seamless connectivity. The data accumulated by real-time monitoring supplement those provided by telematics, regardless of the transport vehicle. The technology of the platform brings various parties together, enables seamless interaction and real-time document exchange, as time is of the essence in the context of Covid. The platforms automate document management and facilitate communication. The addition of blockchain technology guarantees a single source of truth and 24/7 access.
In addition, for vaccine logistics, it is not enough to be informed of any type of disruption. The major challenge is to be able to foresee the risk and reduce its possibility. Since temperatures tend to disrupt cold chains and cause considerable losses, decision-making must be 100% relevant, i.e. data-driven, whether they are entrepreneurs , carriers or route optimization. Therefore, data analysis capabilities allow risk assessment, identification of possible scenarios and best solutions, which in turn saves time and ensures high quality of the vaccine.
Supply chain resilience can be achieved by deploying end-to-end digital supply chain management systems. The integration of data generated by the various stakeholders opens the way to better visibility throughout the chain. A range of devices providing granular data guarantees the highest precision in monitoring and measurements. The combination of precision and visibility forms the basis of responsiveness. Data analysis tools not only automate processes and increase productivity, but also ensure value for money and sustainable business conduct.
In summary, the key to successful vaccine logistics is data integrity. Nowadays, companies engaged in vaccine logistics are realizing more than ever the ease of use of data and the importance of its good management. Clearly, the pandemic has exposed old challenges and added new ones. I suggest looking on the bright side. Crucial and meaningful changes are triggered by crises, so now is the best time for transformations and to embrace digital solutions.