COVID-19 vaccine logistics

2021 03 19

by Hendrike Kühl, Policy Director, IUMI

According  to  the  World  Health  Organization,  there  are  currently  more  than  100  COVID-19  vaccine  candidates  under  development,  with  a  number  of  these  in  the  clinical  trial  phase  and  a  few  already  being administered. Estimates suggest that the logistics industry will have to deliver ten billion doses in the next couple of years. The global scale of this undertaking will pose major challenges to logistics networks  around  the  world.  The  anticipated  demand  for  these  sensitive  products  will  propel  the  necessity for an efficient global supply chain to an unprecedented scale.

Experience   from   the   spike   in   demand  for  personal  protection  equipment  and  the  need  to  dis-tribute these quickly to countries around  the  globe  provides  insights  into  some of the pain points which are likely to occur  during  a  complex  logistical  opera-tion to deliver much needed vaccines. This paper  provides  an  overview  of  the  risks  and challenges foreseen by members of the International Union of Marine Insurance’s (IUMI) Cargo, Loss Prevention, and Legal &  Liability  Committees  as  well  as  several  Secretaries  of  IUMI  member  associations  based  in  various  countries  on  five  conti-nents, hence reflecting regional differences.

Three  themes  were  resounding  in  all  comments: maintaining required temper-atures throughout the entire supply chain; COVID-19 vaccines will be high value goods, thus exposed to the risk of theft; and the lack of capacity in the supply chain. The proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ were concerns related to  temperature  control.  IUMI  emphasizes  this as the biggest challenge. Most attention in this paper is therefore paid to this issue. Preparing for and responding to these risks will facilitate the smooth delivery of the vac-cines.  Marine  insurers  are  enablers  in  this  process for an extraordinary logistical under-taking  of  global  scale,  which  will  help  the  world to return to a ‘new normal’ following the  corona  pandemic.  Insurers’  experience  in  risk  handling  and  mitigation  should  be  offered to clients proactively.

Risks related to temperature control

Several  vaccines  are  currently  under  development, some well advanced in the approval process or even post it. Different vaccines will have different temperature requirements  for  transport  and  storage.  It  remains  to  be  seen  how  many  of  the  approved  products  will  necessitate  tem-peratures as low as -80°C for safe trans-port and storage. Some vaccines may fall into the cold chain or refrigerated goods range of +2 to +8°C for transport and stor-age,  which  would  simplify  the  distribu-tion as this range is common to pharma-ceutical products. Given the expeditious development of the vaccines, insufficient stability data might, however, lead to strict temperature requirements throughout the entire supply chain.

For either temperature scenario, well-organized  shipping  and  precise  han-dling  will  be  essential.  If  extremely  low  temperatures  will  have  to  be  met,  spe-cial  refrigerated  containers,  along  with  rigorous  temperature  monitoring  and  quality  control,  special  packaging  such  as  cold-resistant  vials,  and  qualified  or  validated  boxes  will  be  required.  Dry  ice  may  be  necessary  for  the  transport  which in some countries is only available in limited quantities. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) detailing shipping and handling requirements such as marking1 are  crucial  to  ensure  all  intermediaries  and  carriers  along  the  supply  chain  are  well informed on the nature of the prod-uct being shipped.

Compliance  with  the  SOPs  monitored  by marine risk engineers can help to iden-tify potential pain points. The use of real-time tracking and temperature monitoring throughout the course of transit should be in place, e.g. with established escalation pro-tocol, including immediate notification of appropriate carrier points of contact in the event of a temperature deviation or delay in transit. Where operationally feasible, tem-perature checks at interfaces are desirable to  allocate  potential  mishandling  at  cer-tain  stages  of  the  transport.  This  may  not  always be possible as the temperature data loggers are often placed inside the cartons. It  is  therefore  recommended  to  check  the  quantity of phase change material such as dry ice at each stage and be able to replenish as needed. Given the stringent temperature requirements, it is all the more important to ensure these are strictly adhered to through-out the supply chain as the entire shipment may otherwise be rejected.

The strain on the transportation infra-structure, including reefer trucks and suit-able warehouses, could be problematic due to  the  mass  distribution  of  the  vaccines.  Even though pharmaceutical companies are familiar with the shipping of sensitive prod-ucts, the volume is likely to present a chal-lenge in some parts of the world. A strong infrastructure, including pre-established networks of warehouses and transportation capabilities,  will  be  necessary  to  ensure  a  smooth distribution of vaccine supplies.

Different regulatory regimes will have to be adhered to across the entire logistics chain.  It  will  be  challenging  to  ensure  compliance  within  such  a  short  time  frame  and  on  a  global  scale  consider-ing that various vaccines are still under development  and  have  diverse  charac-teristics and requirements. Rejection by customs  and  national  health  authori-ties  could  be  a  consequence  if  consist-ent compliance cannot be demonstrated. Legislation regarding carrier’s liability in different  countries  should  also  be  con-sidered. Some carriers may not have the necessary expertise in taking care of such temperature-sensitive goods.

Interestingly, the level of concern varies across geographies. IUMI noted that from a contractual point of view for the transport by sea, COVID-19 vaccines do not require any special treatment since the contractual infrastructure already exists for similar high value and perishable cargoes. Others noted that in their geographies purpose-built air-freight  terminals  are  equipped  with  elec-tronic temperature monitoring technology and  cold  rooms  with  various  temperature  settings to handle commodities with differ-ent temperature requirements. On-tarmac coolers are also available to protect the tem-perature-sensitive  cargo  when  it  is  trans-ported between flights.

At the same time, insufficient cooling capabilities  of  cold  storage  warehouses,  sea  containers,  road  transport  and  air-freight may occur in several geographies. Most warehouses are currently only capa-ble  of  cooling  down  to  -25°C.  Ordinary  reefer  containers  are  capable  of  cooling  down  to  -30°C  with  limited  capacity  of  ‘super  freezer’  units  which  can  freeze  down to -60°C. Most trucks are capable of cooling down to -25° to -30°C.

Temperature  controlled  airfreight  con-tainers  with  external  cooling  technol-ogy are available, but the use of dry ice or liquid nitrogen containers is more common. However,  currently  these  are  available  in  limited  quantities  only  and  most  likely  not adequate to respond to the scale of the imminent requirements. Moreover, for air transport  the  use  of  packaging  which  can  maintain  the  necessary  temperatures  for  at  least  24  hours  longer  than  the  antici-pated  transit  time  is  recommended.  As  noted  above,  measures  should  be  in  place  to ensure re-icing can take place while the cargo is in transit.

Loss prevention measures play an impor-tant role to mitigate risks in the cool chain. Risk management techniques such as man-aging the value of the shipments, i.e. avoid-ing significant accumulation, will be essen-tial to prevent a breach in the supply chain and  ensure  there  is  sufficient  redundancy  to guarantee the products will continue to move  and  the  population  gets  vaccinated.  Contingency  measures  in  place  with  the  carriers in case of delays are equally impor-tant. Carriers’ response plans to safeguard the vaccines should be readily available in case of delay in transit.

Risk of theftIn  some  countries  a  spike  in  theft  and  hijacking of these highly valuable consign-ments is possible, hence security is of utmost importance. Arrangements must be in place to ensure that shipments remain secure from tampering and theft. Processes are in place already  in  some  countries,  but  the  huge  volume  of  vaccine  shipments  will  require  early planning to ensure they are scalable. Supply chain security programmes to pro-tect  deliveries  of  COVID-19  vaccines  are  likely  to  include  the  use  of  armed  escorts  (where allowable), additional truck security and driving in secure convoys, depending on the level of risk in each geography. Some countries may even consider military sup-port  to  ensure  vaccine  deliveries  are  not  delayed  in  any  way.  A  global  alert  issued  by Interpol to law enforcement agencies in its 194 member countries warning them to prepare for organized crime networks tar-geting COVID-19 vaccines, both physically and online, indicates the urgent necessity to put in place appropriate security measures.

Industry  standards  such  as  those  from  TAPA to  ensure  highest  possible  safety  measures are in place for storage facilities, trucking  and  parking  security  should  be  applied.  The  use  of  secure  parking  places,  GPS  tracking  of  vehicles  and/or  contain-ers,  multiple  drivers  and  explicit  routing  instructions  are  essential  components  to  avoid  theft.  Containers  will  ideally  be  fitted with special high security seals which have  tracking  and  anti-tampering  devices  attached.  Pre-notice/pre-alert  notifica-tions for outgoing and incoming shipments along with full transparency throughout the supply  chain  is  crucial.  Based  on  lessons learned from both violent and non-violent theft  of  personal  protective  equipment  in  some  countries,  pro-active  risk  manage-ment from ‘cradle to grave’ will be essential.

Governments and transport authorities will also need to pave the way to ensure that these special goods are given top priority at sea- and airports. Proper protocols must be in  place  to  not  only  ensure  effective  tem-perature  management  but  also  security  is  maintained whilst the consignments are in the care and custody of the ports.

Lack of capacity in the supply chain

The  COVID-19  pandemic  continues  to  have  a  massive  impact  on  air  travel.  The number of passengers and flights has decreased significantly since the beginning of the crisis and is nowhere near to return to pre-COVID levels. Passenger flights used to provide capacity for airfreight, but with the decline of these flights, a major share of capacity has been taken out of the market.

While IUMI recognizes that the quick-est mode of transport will likely be by air, airfreight may not be the only solution and is merely part of the wider logistical effort. Managing the cold chain will be more dif-ficult in some geographies than in others. While some countries are likely to have suf-ficient capacity, many will not. Some compa-nies who heretofore have not specialized in cold chain/pharma shipment, storage, and transportation are likely to be used and thus introduce a new risk. A full understanding of  the  capabilities  of  the  freight  industry  must therefore be taken into consideration across different geographies.

While many countries do not necessar-ily  expect  to  have  the  vaccines  produced  domestically, some countries are confident to meet the demand by domestic providers. This would reduce several hurdles related to multiple legs of transit, including overseas voyages, discharge and customs clearance for onward inland movement in the coun-tries of import. Given these hurdles, ship-ments  done  on  a  direct  or  limited  trans-shipment basis are preferred due to reduced cargo handling and margin for errors.



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The magazine JŪRA has been published since 1935.
International business magazine JŪRA MOPE SEA has been
published since 1999.

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