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Will Public-Private Partnership address the challenges of COVID-19 vaccine distribution?

By Aastha Malhotra 5th February 2021

The development of COVID-19 vaccines has finally restored some semblance of normalcy after a year of constant fear and panic. However, as countries prepare to launch their COVID-19 vaccination programme, the deployment of these vaccines is going to be another big challenge for the logistics industry. The COVID-19 immunization program is probably going to be one of the biggest global vaccination initiatives in the history of humanity, which brings to light an entirely new set of challenges for the governments. 

Vaccine Distribution

Looking at the deteriorating health conditions and halted operations, the vaccines will have to be distributed at breakneck speed which only puts more pressure on the supply chain network. In this article, we will identify the key hurdles in COVID-19 vaccine distribution and discuss the role of public-private partnership in paving a path for the challenges ahead. 

Key challenges to be faced in vaccine distribution

The unprecedented surge in online orders in the past year has already put a lot of pressure on the global supply chain. The logistics providers and leading online marketplaces are leaving no stone unturned to cater to the ever-evolving market requirements. From same-day or same-hour delivery options, contactless delivery models, tracking software to the most recent Amazon delivery drones, the pace at which the logistics industry is evolving is phenomenal. However, when it comes to the distribution of vaccination, it’s an entirely different ball game. Here’s how. 

1. Cold Chain Capacity

Cold chain capacity is one of the most important factors to be considered in vaccine distribution. The storage requirement for every vaccine is different, therefore making suitable arrangements for vaccine disposal in different climate conditions might be challenging. Typically, cold chain supply carriers that transport medical supplies operate between two to eight degrees, which is the perfect storage temperature for most vaccines. 

2. Storage requirements 

The vaccine distribution drive may also be hampered by poor storage capabilities in remote areas. Vaccines are more stable if stored at a certain temperature, however, this might not always be the case with inadequate medical infrastructure or hotter climate conditions. Certainly, we’ve never led an immunisation programme on a massive scale, therefore strengthening the vaccine storage capabilities globally will make the vaccine more accessible. 

3. Last-mile delivery

With huge volumes of COVID-19 vaccine released, last-mile delivery is going to one of the biggest challenges. To carry through this immunisation programme in every nook and corner of the country, we need more resources and currently, we’re unequipped for that. The requirement for dispatchers, cold chain supply carriers, freight vehicles and better storage facilities have automatically risen which stresses the need to build a robust supply-chain network that is specifically designed for vaccine management. 

India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive

As part of the COVID-19 vaccination drive that started on January 16, the centre also launched an app called COWIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network) app for tracking the listed beneficiaries for vaccination in India. The app will be made accessible to the general public by the end of March 2021. Here’s how it aims to strengthen the world’s largest immunisation programme: 

CO-WIN has four modules which make the operation easier for everyone- user administrator, beneficiary registration, vaccination and beneficiary acknowledgement and status updation:

  • The Back-end module is responsible for checking temperature loggers and sends real-time alerts to the central server
  • The administrator module tracks the beneficiaries and does vaccination session planning and management 
  • The Registration module monitors sessions planned vs sessions held

Global initiatives for vaccine distribution

Amazon Vaccine distribution

The distribution of vaccines is going to be a lengthy time-consuming process with the existing medical facilities and supply chain capacity. However, if we ease the initial phase of deployment and identify the challenges to build a proper vaccine infrastructure, it can be made more accessible. Some leading dispatch companies in the world have already begun to address such challenges. Listed below are a few examples: 

Amazon steps up for the biggest global initiative

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer is all set to offer assistance in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. President Biden recently laid our a goal of delivering 100 million vaccine doses within the first 100 days of his administration. Amazon has already made an agreement with a licensed third party occupational health provider to administer vaccines on-site at the Amazon facilities. They are fully prepared to make the best use of their operations, information technology and communications capabilities to assist the administration’s vaccination efforts. 

FedEx invests in freezer farm capacity 

In order to reach every nook and corner of the world, the supply chains need to upgrade their storage and distribution capabilities. In a bid to keep vaccine doses safe and effective as the production increases, FedEx along with other companies like UPS and DHL are making massive investments in the freezer farm capacity. After airlifting thousands of tons of protective gear across the world for health workers, the companies are preparing themselves to battle yet another logistics challenge spawned by the pandemic.

Fedex_Vaccine Distribution
Blue Dart partners with pharma companies to cater to express logistics requirements 

Blue Dart is another effective vaccine cold chain and logistics system that has been safely transporting vaccines, clinical samples along with many more medical-grade supplies for several vaccine manufacturers. The company already has a remarkable operational experience in this direction and is doing some serious background work in the COVID-19 vaccine capacity management. Right from packaging, data loggers, walk-in cold rooms to substantial technology and manpower investment, it is doing everything in its power to upgrade the system for better handling of vaccine doses. 

Public-Private Partnership for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccine

The countries all over the world came together in remarkable ways to fight the COVID-19 menace. However, the pandemic is far from over yet which makes the contribution of every public/private sector equally important in the immunisation programme. The private sector has played a vital role in the distribution of safety gears and testing kits throughout the pandemic, which makes its contribution to the vaccine distribution important. It’s also come to the experts’ notice that leaving the distribution of vaccines alone to either of the two sectors might not reap good results which once again requires the collective best efforts of both public and private sectors. 

Key Dispatch Management features for efficient vaccine distribution 

Technology has changed everything around us in the past few months. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the initiatives taken in just 10 months were years ahead of the planned projects. One industry that has truly outdone itself amidst the trying times is the on-demand industry. The on-demand apps with the help of amazing dispatch technologies catered to millions of unique delivery requests. So now, here comes the big question, how can we leverage the same technologies in the biggest vaccine distribution programme? Here are the key delivery management features that can be used for efficient vaccine distribution: 

  • Real-time visibility

The distribution of vaccines requires a substantial amount of planning, sensitivity and efficiency and all this can only be made possible with enhanced real-time visibility that advanced dispatch software like Tookan is equipped with. Real-time visibility helps dispatchers keep an eye on the product and the supply chain network which improves the delivery efficiency. The vaccine doses are supposed to be transported in the right type of vehicle and stored at certain temperatures, therefore operating blindly might not be the ideal way to approach vaccine distribution. 

  • Automated Dispatching 

In addition to enhanced visibility into operations, Tookan also automates the initial dispatch process like scheduling delivery drivers for specific actions, picking the right type of vehicle with the right temperature, real-time alerts on arrival and final delivery and route-optimization for maximum fleet efficiency. 

  • Predictive Analytics 

Artificial Intelligence builds predictive models that predict how long each stage of delivery will take. The analysis is based on historical trends and current data such as traffic predictions, long routes etc. It gives a more estimated time of arrival (ETA) to the hospitals, pharmacies and stores who then make suitable storage arrangements on time. It also eliminates the risk of vaccines getting stuck in the supply chain network.

  • Seamless Coordination

In addition to getting the vaccine to its end destination, the AI-powered dispatch technologies in Tookan can automatically pair up the vaccine with the right vehicle to ensure temperature-controlled deliveries. It facilitates seamless coordination amongst the healthcare professionals, dispatchers, dispatch vehicle and patients which makes sure that the vaccines reach at the right time and administered to patients correctly. 

Conclusion

The world right now needs nothing more than a well-thought-out action plan for vaccine distribution and this can only be made possible with the best logistics services. For efficient vaccine delivery, the confidence and technologies of the private sector must match the consistency and competency from the public sector. 

While some leading private organisations are already stepping up for this initiative, it’s also time to take notice of other logistics management systems that are thriving with some of the best dispatch technologies in the market. 

With CO-WIN launching, we now have a fair idea of what all needs to be monitored under the vaccine distribution drive. What we need next is a public-private distribution model that complements the global vaccine distribution efforts.

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