AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Covishield — the names that instill hope. The battle against the pandemic is on, and scientific labs across the globe are developing vaccines. Mere vaccines are just one side of the coin. The other one is the actual journey to a patient. A single malfunction across the supply chain can do much more harm than just affect the business — it can steal the chance of someone’s survival. Healthcare companies struggle to deal with the magnitude of mass development: the processes of monitoring, tracing, storing, provision, and administration of vaccines require innovative technologies in order to be seamless.

Supply chain disruptions happen all the time. The global pandemic just revealed the problems that have already been around and underlined their significance. If we take a look at a report that dates back to 2019, we will see that bad logistics destroys 25% of shipped vaccines. Temperature fluctuations cost healthcare providers as much as nearly $35 billion annually.

Temperature-related risks are risks that can be mitigated by a new level of supply chain visibility. Intelligent solutions based on IoT have been successfully dealing with food industry issues, specifically, waste reduction. Ensuring transparency across the vaccine supply chain provides the context which is vital for the segment.

Let’s have a look at the current logistics needs for combatting Covid-19 and technologies that can make a difference.

Knowing where the gaps are

Despite the overall freight capacity growth as compared to 2019 rates, it is still very limited. Due to the fact that a large percentage of vaccines are produced locally, we expect to see a surge in demand for overland transportation and temperature-controlled containers. Cold chain capacity is crucial for vaccine logistics. Normally, medical supplies would be transported with temperatures between zero and eight degrees Celsius. As far as the Pfizer vaccine is concerned, it requires a temperature below -70° Celsius. The truth is modern supply chains are not prepared for this.

The issue mentioned above is followed by another one. Vaccine distribution to countries such as Africa, regions of South America and Asia are subject to specific storage requirements. Beyond the hot temperatures themselves, these countries may not have the relevant infrastructure to ensure the vaccine’s integrity. The population numbers in these areas paired with huge vaccine demand will continue to hamper storage capabilities.

Trucking organizations cannot support the growing volumes of freight. Given the staff shortages — for instance, lack of drivers — last-mile delivery faces significant challenges. Therefore, local pharmacies become responsible for the vaccine distribution, which implies extensive employee training. The issue is especially tangible for rural healthcare institutions and regions mentioned above.

These gaps altogether are a call for speed, enhanced flexibility, transparency, and tight collaboration between numerous stakeholders of vaccine logistics. Now, I offer to discuss the enablers.

Tech stack for vaccine logistics

In the case of Covid-19, the vaccine is not only sensitive with regard to temperatures and time, it presents a huge value. Additional hazards specific to this virus are high exposure to theft, illegal activity such as sabotaging and fraud. Smart sensor technologies can be utilized beyond monitoring temperatures — they can be used for detection purposes at large. By supporting real-time tracking, sensors provide constantly updated information on quality, conditions, and location. Upon any deviation from the norm, the alerting system immediately raises red flags and makes adjustments.

Vaccine logistics encompasses various stakeholders. With governments being involved, partnerships across the global supply chains require smooth connectivity. The data accumulated by real-time tracking supplements the one that is provided by telematics, whatever the transportation vehicle is. Platform technology glues various parties together, allows for seamless interaction, and document exchange in real-time since time is key in the Covid context. Platforms give a chance to automate document management and facilitate communication. Adding blockchain technology ensures a single source of truth and 24/7 access to it.

Further, for vaccine logistics, it is not enough to be informed of any kind of disruption. The major challenge is to be able to forecast the risk and decrease its possibility. Given the fact that temperatures tend to disrupt cold chains and cause considerable losses, the decision-making must be 100% relevant — in other words data-driven — whether we speak about contractors, transportation companies, or route optimization. Therefore, data analytics capabilities allow for risk assessment, identifying the possible scenarios and best solutions, which in turn saves time and secures the high quality of the vaccine.

The resilience of supply chains can be achieved by deploying end-to-end digital supply chain management systems. Integrating data generated by various stakeholders paves the way to enhanced visibility across the chain. An array of devices providing granular data ensures the utmost accuracy of monitoring and measures. The combination of accuracy and visibility forms the basis of responsiveness. Data analytical tools not only automate processes and boost productivity, but also ensure resource optimization and sustainable business conduct.

To sum up, the key to successful vaccine logistics is data integrity. Nowadays, companies engaged in vaccine logistics realize the data usability and importance of its proper management more than ever before. Obviously, the pandemic exposed the old challenges and added new ones. I offer to look at the bright side of things. Crucial and meaningful changes are triggered by crises, therefore, now is the best time for transformations and to embrace digital solutions.