It may be the largest, fastest, and most critical ramp-up in American history. I’m talking about the development of the logistics infrastructure required to handle the distribution of hundreds of millions of doses of the Covid-19 vaccine once it’s approved.
And it will be those of us who run the nation’s supply chains who will be responsible for making it happen.
While we’ve heard a lot about the race to develop a safe and effective vaccine (which hopefully will be ready for approval around the time the calendar turns), there has been scant discussion of how that vaccine will get to all of us.
Never before has the entire world needed the same medical treatment all at once—all 7.6 billion of us. We can’t rely on the usual health-care supply chains for the largest health initiative ever. They would be overwhelmed by the unprecedented volume.
So, what will be needed? Here’s what we know right now: There will likely be several vaccines ready within months of each other. Each may have different handling requirements. They may require more than one dose and will likely need temperature control, meaning that our nation’s cold chain capabilities will be tested as well.
Air, truck, rail, and parcel capabilities will all be needed to make this happen quickly. Any delays could cost additional lives. Other technologies, such as smart labels, visibility tools, and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and sensors to monitor temperatures, will also be required to assure that the vaccines stay potent in transit.
We don’t have a lot of time to prepare. We have to begin now, not wait until the vaccines are ready before we act. It simply won’t work. And we can’t wait for the federal government to take the lead. The current administration has already proven that it’s neither capable nor willing to provide the necessary leadership for the incredible task before us. Just look at the shortages of testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPE) that we’re still experiencing more than six months into the pandemic, and it’s clear that the government is not up to the task.
Therefore, it’s up to us to step up. As an industry, we need leaders to coordinate with vaccine manufacturers, the medical community, and immunization experts to ensure we have the infrastructure and capacity to ramp up distribution with hyperspeed. As we have done so effectively before—in forming the American Logistics Aid Network, for example—we need to swiftly mobilize the resources needed for the job ahead. Let’s make it happen!