Covid-19 vaccine deliveries unprecedented challenge for global supply chains

  • The eventual approval of successful COVID-19 vaccines will necessitate the largest vaccine distribution program in history.
  • For the logistics sector, shipping an estimated 10 billion vaccine doses with strict temperature control restrictions will be challenging.
  • Capacity issues and insufficient cold storage facilities, especially in less developed markets, may hamper vaccine distribution.
  • DHL and other logistic firms have scaled up technical and operational capabilities to be able to respond to the upcoming challenges.
  • Because of her work, Business Insider named Pang Mei Yee, DHL’s Head of Asia Pacific, Global Practice Lead for Supply Chain to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming supply chain in Asia.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

The recent news that Pfizer and partner BioNTech have developed a vaccine that is 90% effective against COVID-19 was a welcome boost for the continuing fight against the global pandemic, giving hope that a universal vaccination program will be available at some point in 2021.

For the logistics sector, however, vaccine discovery is just the start. Once vaccines receive the necessary regulatory approval, the next step in bringing vaccines to market will be the complex task of delivering huge numbers of vaccine doses to and from countries all across the world. That will mean creating and managing a supply chain to handle the largest vaccine shipping program in history.

According to a whitepaper from DHL and McKinsey and Company, medical supply chains will need to deliver more than 10 million vaccine doses to over 200 countries and territories worldwide. The study estimates that as many as 15 million flights will be required across the various supply chain setups, with an estimated 65,000 metric tons of air freight expected in 2021, compared to 13,500 metric tons in 2019. 

Capacity issues still a concern

The sheer scale of the challenge ahead is set against the backdrop of an industry that has throughout 2020 experienced a decrease in capacity. By March 2020, global air freight volumes had dropped by 19%, mainly due mainly to the rapid reduction in passenger flights. By the middle of the year, volume numbers had recovered slightly as cargo capacity increased, but were still down significantly year-on-year.


Pang Mei Yee, Head of Asia Pacific, Global Practice Lead for Supply Chain and Analytics Practice, at DHL Consulting


According to Pang Mei Yee, Head of Asia Pacific, Global Practice Lead for Supply Chain and Analytics Practice, at DHL Consulting, capacity bottlenecks could be a problem for vaccine distribution. “This is especially true for a region like Asia Pacific, which has the largest share of air cargo traffic in the world,” she said. “According to August 2020 data from IATA (International Air Transport Association), capacity for international air cargo in Asia Pacific has declined by 35% compared to the previous year. In addition, there would be a need to have sufficient storage and distribution capabilities on the ground and a robust delivery network, especially in the last mile, to cope with the staggering volume of shipments.”

For DHL and others, it is hoped the experience in shipping medical necessities right through the pandemic period will help give them a lead. Since the start of the outbreak, demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies has surged, with millions of items shipped out of China and Korea in particular during the first months of the pandemic. This experience has allowed logistics companies to identify and respond to pain points in the supply chain.

Cold storage is a key requirement 

Vaccine shipping however will be far a more complex undertaking. One of the main factors complicating the logistics challenge is the need for stringent temperature…

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