WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 4, 2020 --The recent news of the FDA’s approval of two vaccines to fight the coronavirus was met with cheers and sighs of relief. An end to the pandemic appeared to be in sight. But, with that good news came the realities – how would millions of doses of the vaccine get into the arms of Americans who were eagerly awaiting them?
That’s when the role of the supply chain took center stage. The carriers that keep the wheels of commerce (and ecommerce) rolling daily were suddenly thrust into the spotlight. With last-mile delivery companies providing the ultimate keys. These last-mile carriers will be responsible for transporting the vaccines at super-low temperatures; handling them properly and tracking their progress from the manufacturers to the places where they will inoculate consumers. Last mile carriers will also play a role in the critical supply chain that delivers the raw materials that drug companies need to manufacture the vaccines.
What are the challenges of handling these critical deliveries? How will the last-mile carriers meet them? What will they need to do to make the deliveries safely and efficiently? Jason Burns, First Vice President of the Customized Logistics & Delivery Association (CLDA), says the 3,500 companies that provide last-mile deliveries will be the key. Burns is also Director of Corporate development at Dropoff, a company well-experience in cold chain deliveries.
Members of the CLDA are mostly regional carriers who routinely transport pharmaceuticals. It is likely that they will play a key role, especially in the delivery of the Moderna vaccine, which will go through traditional pharmaceuticals’ distribution channels. The Pfizer vaccine, with its uniquely low temperature requirement (-94 degrees Fahrenheit) will go right from the manufacturer to sites uniquely qualified to store it through FedEx and UPS. Last mile carriers may be involved as subcontractors to these two transportation providers.
The Moderna vaccine is shipped at -4 degrees Fahrenheit, which is common for many pharmaceuticals. “The vaccine will be distributed by McKesson, which has a contract with the US government. Doses will be transported through their current supply chain,” says Burns. “Many CLDA members are already essential parts of that system. Their role will be to take the vaccines from local distribution sites to hospitals, clinics, and drug stores where they will be administered. Some of our members will handle the first leg of that journey from the manufacturers to regional hubs, while others will be responsible for transportation from regional distribution centers to local sites. That’s how we expect the Moderna vaccine to be transported since it will be pre-packaged in totes with dry ice and/or frozen cool packs to keep them at optimal temperature. Last-mile providers will transport the sealed totes, much as we handle regular pharmaceutical distribution.”
Delivery of the Moderna vaccine poses other demands. Capacity for one. “Managing capacity will be an on-going challenge,” says Burns. “Over the next few months, the drug has to be supplied to roughly one million people. However, initial distribution of the vaccine took place in the middle of the holiday rush. Under normal conditions, this is already a tough time of year to meet demand due to ecommerce shipments. The pandemic created even more volume during that period during a time when there is normally competition for resources, including drivers and vehicles. Companies had to get creative to find ways to add more capacity and personnel to be successful.”
There’s also the issue of security. “Having a secure chain of custody is critical with all pharmaceuticals, and this is especially important with the vaccine,” says Burns. “Everyone’s aware of the nature of these shipments, including those operating on the black market. Typically, with pharmaceutical operations, the focus is on securing your facility. Having good processes for scanning into the warehouse, loading vehicles and scanning again upon delivery. Some drivers also have cameras on the vehicles for added security measures.”
While the anticipation for this vaccine has put heightened attention on last mile providers, Burns expects this to be one step towards the increasing importance of the role of these carriers in healthcare logistics. “Healthcare will increasingly be delivered in peoples’ homes and the final mile industry will play a key role in making that happen,” says Burns. “I foresee a time in the not-so-distant future where vaccines like this one will be administered in peoples’ homes by medical technicians. Bolstered by the continued growth of telemedicine, in the near-future doctors will supervise healthcare workers through an app or a platform like Zoom while they administer a variety of life-sustaining medications. Or perform tests for COVID or other conditions. The need to develop these delivery systems may have been exposed by the current healthcare crisis. Ultimately, it may be one of the few positive things that comes out of the pandemic.”
About the Customized Logistics and Delivery Association
The Customized Logistics and Delivery Association (CLDA) is a non-profit professional association that is the voice of the time-critical logistics, delivery and express air cargo logistics industries. The association serves the needs of its 3,500 essential service members who are logistics professionals, carriers, shippers, drivers, air cargo logistics providers, 3 PLs and vendors servicing today’s supply chain companies. Since 1987, CLDA has provided business opportunities, advocacy and education. For more information see www.clda.org.