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Covid Vaccine Puts Pressure on the World’s Logistics Nervous System

If the internet is a kind of distributed brain, then the logistics network is like a nervous system. The signal to move equipment and goods may be transmitted over the internet, but it is the physical trucks, distribution centers, and package handlers that transport goods around the world. The impending distribution of vaccines for Covid-19 will stress that system in new ways, especially as only 28% of air cargo companies felt decently prepared to handle the coming vaccines.[1] 

Vaccines must be kept at precise temperatures. This is not so difficult for short, low-volume, deliveries across, say, a city. But transporting large amounts on a global scale is challenging. For example, one of the first vaccines that looks ready for large scale distribution is Pfizer’s. During transport, the vaccine must be kept at a constant minus 70 degrees Celsius, which currently only 7% of air carriers can accomplish. This contrasts with vaccines, like AstraZeneca’s, that need a minus 2-8 degree Celsius environment, and which 85% of air carriers can maintain. 

The potential bottleneck of carriers is compounded by the means of maintaining the temperature. For colder temperatures, dry ice is often used, but there is currently a dry ice shortage due to lessened traffic on the roads, another consequence of Covid 19. Other methods use batteries, but not all airports are equipped to charge large amounts of vaccines using batteries.

As with any transporting of goods, it does not only have to move from factory to warehouse, and from warehouse to warehouse, but also to the hospital, clinic, or location that it will be administered. Arriving at the end user is called the last mile, and this presents its own set of challenges for the vaccine. These physical networks that bind our world together will be under a new strain with the millions and millions of vaccines that will soon begin to make their way around the world, and hopefully, at the end of the day, to those who need it the most. 

 

Personal comment

We are dependent on each other. Not only is this true in the case of health, as the Covid crisis has made abundantly clear, but also in terms of logistics. We are used to complexity disappearing into the background. We take out our phones and order whatever we want at the tap of a button, expecting it to arrive within days and with real-time tracking. The ease of the transaction hides the incredible complexity that is happening behind the scenes.[2] The distribution challenge we now face puts pressure on this system that, for the most part, hums along in the background. Not only are we dependent on this system, but there is a lot of exciting things happening with it, and hopefully will this major logistics venture in the midst of a global pandemic, learn us something that can be applied on regular transports when we are back in a more normal world. 

 

Written by Joshua Bronson, RISE Mobility & Systems.

 

Sources

1. 2020-11-30 The role of freight forwarders in distributing the coronavirus vaccine
2. 2016 Thank you for being late, by Thomas Freedman