Bonn (dpa) – The global logistics industry is already preparing for the global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, which could hit the market in the coming months.
Most of the business will be handled by logistics giants Deutsche Post DHL, Fedex, UPS and Kuehne + Nagel, which have pharmaceutical branches and can guarantee refrigerated transport. Talks with pharmaceutical companies take place for a long time, according to logistics specialists. The task of global distribution is a great challenge, but one is well prepared. Kuehne + Nagel and DHL announced that the first logistics contracts for Covid-19 vaccines have already been concluded.
The crux of the transport is the cooling of the preparations. The vaccine from the Biontech companies of Mainz and Pfizer of the USA, whose development is particularly advanced, requires a cooling of minus 70 degrees during transport. Other preparations require minus 20 degrees or temperatures up to plus eight degrees; According to the company, temperatures above zero degrees are sufficient for the vaccine from the American company Moderna, which is also well advanced.
Deutsche Post DHL is considering purchasing several hundred especially cold freezers (“Ultralow Freezers”) for its warehouse network. Each costs a low five-digit amount in euros and has room for more than 25,000 vials that could hold a good 100,000 doses of vaccine. “We examined our infrastructure to determine the ability to deliver at minus 20 or minus 70 degrees,” says DHL responsible manager Thomas Ellmann.
This is not new territory for your company, for example, there are already 58 such freezers in a temporary storage facility on the German-Dutch border. But they are already in use and already full – even specialty pharmaceuticals, animal vaccines, and products for clinical studies must be stored at extreme freezing temperatures. From this point of view, one has a lot of experience with transports at such temperatures, says Ellmann.
On the plane and in the truck, the preparations come in plastic boxes with dry ice, that is, frozen CO2. Such boxes could maintain a temperature of minus 70 degrees for up to six days, says the DHL manager.
Until now, transporting vaccines and drugs in extremely freezing temperatures has been a fringe business for logistics companies. “The amount of frozen food that the logistics industry has to deal with due to Covid-19 is a huge challenge,” says Ellmann. In the past, Ebola preparations also had to be shipped frozen in large quantities, but Covid-19 has a much larger dimension as a global problem.
He estimates that the logistics industry will ship 10 billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine over the next two years; some preparations will have to be injected multiple times, so there are more doses than people on earth. “We will have a lot to do,” says the logistics specialist. However, over time, vaccines that do not have to be frozen for transport will also come onto the market, and industry requirements will change and simplify accordingly, the logistician is convinced.
From DHL’s point of view, state actors are also important: customs clearance must run smoothly and state and health insurance must have a good command of the “last mile”, that is, the route taken by pharmaceuticals from the delivery of the logistics to the authority to vaccination. The federal states are currently considering the creation of regional vaccination centers. In any case, as with a normal vaccination, the insured cannot obtain his vaccine himself at the pharmacy and take it to the doctor, or if it is available from the doctor, according to Ellmann. “Neither the pharmacy nor the doctors have the adequate freezing capacity.”
In its “Life Sciences and Healthcare” division, DHL has 9,000 specially trained employees, 150 warehouses and 120 handling centers around the world. The Bonn group does not provide any sales information.
The Swiss-based logistics group Kuehne + Nagel says it has its own fleet of 200 air-conditioned pharmaceutical trailers – that is, truck trailers – in Europe. The company also has distribution centers with cooling chambers that are minus 20 degrees below zero. “We assume, however, that a temperature of plus 2 to plus 8 degrees Celsius will be sufficient in most cases,” says a company spokesman. In case temperatures as low as 80 degrees Celsius were necessary for transport and storage, “we also have solutions for this.”
UPS is said to have demand for the transportation of Covid-19 vaccines and tests in sight and is preparing the network accordingly. From Fedex’s point of view, distribution is one of the biggest challenges that the logistics industry has faced. “Covid-19 vaccines require extensive experience in logistics so that they can be effectively distributed in large quantities around the world, in a very different way than traditional transportation,” says FedEx European Director Karen Reddington. “From proper temperature control to speedy customs clearance – this is anything but ordinary transportation.”
Vaccines and other “temperature controlled” shipments had already been transported. “We are well positioned and working with manufacturers, distribution centers and authorities to address this unprecedented logistical challenge,” says Reddington.