The Good News: The Vaccines Work
News of promising results in COVID-19 vaccine research has brought a glimmer of hope to people around the world. Within the space of two weeks, both Pfizer and Moderna have announced that early results of their front-runner vaccines show an effectiveness rate of about 95%. The news catalyzed an upsurge in the stock market and spurred governments around the world to begin planning for delivering the vaccines to the most vulnerable populations.
The Bad News: Delivering the Vaccine Will Be Challenging
While the world’s attention has been on the vaccine as a way out of the COVID-19 crisis, distributing the vaccine globally will require one of the largest logistical operations in modern history. The most significant barrier to large-scale distribution is the requirement of a seamless cold-chain. Pfizer’s vaccine needs to be stored at an ultra-cold -75C, while Moderna’s vaccine requires storage at -20C. The current cold-chain for delivering vaccines was designed for temperatures averaging 4-8C, which is about the temperature of an average refrigerator. At the moment, it is not possible to ensure an unbroken cold chain at -75C in many parts of the world.
Developing an unbroken cold chain that can maintain the stability of the vaccines while they’re delivered across the globe will require unprecedented supply chain logistics, particularly in warmer climates. According to experts, approximately 25 percent of vaccines are spoiled because of inconsistent temperatures along standard cold-chains. With the COVID-19 vaccines requiring two doses to be completely effective, this would represent a staggering and perhaps dangerous amount of lost product.
In large parts of Asia, Africa, and South America, delivering the vaccine will present significant challenges. With many people living in remote areas that are difficult to access, vaccines are often delivered by aid workers on foot, with vaccines in portable cold packs. Most of the health care centers in many of these countries don’t have access to proper refrigeration units for normal vaccines, never mind those that have to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. In India, the government maintains its universal immunization program with a massive cold storage network, but no company servicing that network currently has the capacity to transport vaccines that require storage colder than -25C.
The Solution: Innovation and Cooperation
For the vaccines to be effective, there will need to be a massive global effort to deliver them around the world and ensure maximum participation rates. This means vaccination centers in many densely populated areas running 24/7, with extensive outreach programs to bring the vaccines to vulnerable rural populations. Therefore, now is the time to find innovative new ways to meet these challenges. Drones, portable cold-chain facilities, and partnerships between government and public sectors are just a few of the possibilities that governments will need to explore to ensure the success of the vaccine.
The Future: Continuous Improvement and Supply Chain Resiliency
It will also be important to learn from what this experience will teach us and to engage in continuous improvement of the global supply chain. COVID-19 cruelly exposed the shortcomings of supply chain resiliency throughout 2020. Protectionist national policies along the supply chain, unpredictable consumer behavior, and poor applications of just-in-time manufacturing led to shortages of critical items like personal protective equipment that worsened the impact of the pandemic for many people. Many of the innovations that organizations use to meet the challenges of the vaccine cold chain will become best practice for regular supply chain approaches in the coming years, which will be particularly important for developing the resiliency to face the next inevitable crisis
For more information on supply chain resiliency, please click here.