Owner-operators will be needed to distribute COVID-19 vaccine

November 30 2020

The development of the Covid-19 vaccine is not the only battle. Once it has been invented and produced, the logistics sector will play a key role. Logistics professionals will have to face up to a considerable challenge. Owner-operators will be needed to distribute COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccine loads will likely be highly sensitive and require constant monitoring for temperature and location. But not any reefer hauler will meet the requirements for transporting the vaccine:

“If you’re a reefer hauler hauling even frozen food goods, that’s probably not fungible for what’s required” to haul COVID vaccines, said Ken Adamo, chief of analytics at DAT. However, he said, reefer capacity diverted to vaccine loads could open up opportunities for other time-sensitive reefer loads abandoned for vaccine hauls.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization estimates that only 10 percent of healthcare facilities in the world’s poorest countries have a reliable electricity supply while in some countries less than 5 percent of health centres have vaccine-qualified refrigerators.

Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham, commented: “Universal vaccine access is already a major challenge. With COVID-19, rapid mass immunisation will probably be required; maintaining a continuous cold chain to rapidly transport and deliver COVID-19 vaccine to all communities, many where electricity supply and cooling infrastructure is often non-existent or unreliable, will be a daunting task. Given most of the technologies deployed today will still be in operation in the next decade, the emergence of sustainable and off-grid cold-chain devices allows us the opportunity to create sustainable solutions for COVID-19 vaccine deployment that also can deliver resilient and sustainable health cold-chain systems as a lasting legacy.”

Vaccine’s storage requirements

Vaccines in the works by Astrazeneca and Moderna have much more lenient tolerances for temperature and time requirements than the first one announced, made by Pfizer. It requires distribution at -94 degrees Fahrenheit, which poses logistic concerns, though Pfizer says it has distribution plans in place.
Pfizer’s vaccine relies on RNA (ribonucleic acid) technology. This gives the opportunity for the vaccine to be moved in trailers cooled to around -30 degrees Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit), which is not uncommon for refrigerated hauls.

“Usually vaccines are stored and transported at a temperature of two to minus eight degrees,” says Katja Busch, DHL Sales Director, quoted by Reuters.

“We expect that 10 billion doses of vaccines will have to be distributed worldwide, including regions where there is no motorway exit every 5 kilometres,” Busch added.

Express delivery and logistics giant UPS (NYSE: UPS) on Tuesday said it has invested in machines to produce dry ice for transport and storage of frozen COVID-19 vaccines.

First in line for Covid-19 vaccine

Not only the truck drivers will play a key role in the vaccine’s transportation. They could be among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine if supplies are limited.
The first phase of the plan will first get the vaccines to high-risk health workers and first responders along with higher-risk people with underlying conditions. Doug Morris, OOIDA’s director of safety and security operations, said truckers will likely be included in Phase 2 – a group that includes school teachers and critical workers who are in industries essential to the functioning of society and at substantially high risk of exposure.