In my opinion… Dominic Hyde on vaccine logistics

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Dominic Hyde


As the development of successful COVID-19 vaccines continues at a rapid rate, the world’s first approved vaccines are already being administered as part of ongoing mass vaccination programmes worldwide.

Temperature controlled packaging manufacturers continue to play a pivotal part in the global deployment of these approved vital vaccines, including those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford University/AstraZeneca and Moderna.

As COVID-19 vaccines fall into different families of technology, some have frozen and deep frozen temperature requirements, leading to a scramble to qualify existing solutions for shipping at those specific lower temperatures.

In a rapid response to the logistical cold chain challenges involved in the deployment of these potentially lifesaving vaccines, we have adapted our shippers to meet those temperature requirements, as have other providers in the market.

There has been an impetus for innovation to support these temperatures in volume. Suppliers stepped up to meet the vaccine temperature requirements by adapting existing shipping solutions and the capacity is there, so I don’t anticipate it will be an issue going forward.

The focus is reverted back to the capacities in the transport modes and given the nature of these drugs people are paying whatever it costs to ship them, with rates rising sharply from $2.5 a kilo to $23; however that’s starting to calm down.

Beyond all of the current vaccines being approved there will be the need to provide boosters. It is going to create a recurring step up in the volume of vaccines being shipped, alongside the flu vaccines being transported and other pharmaceutical payloads every year.

There will not be a continuous crisis; it will be a continuing trend of smaller aircraft, with reduced air freight capacities, moving pharmaceutical products at temperatures that sea freight cannot do. It really can only fly.

However, there’s not going to be a modal shift from air to sea because sea cannot meet the temperature requirements necessary for these shipments. You get a displacement, whereby COVID-19 shipments, whether vaccines, test kits and reagents or some of the therapies which help with recuperation, like Remdesivir, are flying at almost any cost on a dwindling resource.

The pharmaceuticals, which have more normal temperature shipping requirements, like 2 – 8C degrees or 15 – 25C degrees, get displaced and in that situation, when the air freight rates get so high, sea freight would normally be seen as a shipping solution.

2021 will see the industry learning to operate in the new norm with everyone getting used to that new norm. Next year we might start to see some improvements and efficiencies but I think this year is about adjusting our planning, our capacities and our operations around this spike in demand and the gradually improving capacity picture. Almost like wearing in a new pair of shoes.