Providing a vaccine for COVID-19: The DHL study shows how the public and private sectors can successfully partner

To supply 10 billion doses of serum, extended sanitary supply chains are required. A framework is offered to address future health emergencies beyond COVID-19

Bogota, D.C., October 2020. As the first emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 vaccines are expected to enter into force as early as the last quarter of 2020, logistics providers face the challenge of rapidly establishing healthcare supply chains in order to deliver serums in unprecedented quantities: more than 10 billion doses to be distributed worldwide. Therefore, DHL, in collaboration with McKinsey & Company as an analytical partner, published a study on establishing stable logistics for vaccines and medical equipment during COVID-19 and in future health crises.

Currently, more than 250 vaccines are being developed and tested on seven different platforms. With COVID-19 vaccines rapidly skipping stages in their development, rigid temperature requirements (up to -80oC) are likely to be imposed on certain vaccines to ensure that their efficacy is maintained during transport and storage. This poses new logistical challenges in the existing supply chain for healthcare products, which typically distributes vaccines at 2–8oC. In the study, DHL assesses how to effectively address vaccine transport as a highly temperature-sensitive product to combat the proliferation of the virus in the future. The scale of this task is enormous: Offering global coverage with COVID-19 vaccines will require up to 200,000 container shipments, 15 million refrigerated box deliveries, and 15,000 flights along the various supply chain structures.

"The COVID-19 crisis has manifested itself with an unprecedented magnitude and impact. Governments, businesses and the logistics sector have had to adapt quickly to new challenges. As leaders in logistics, we want to share our operating experience during one of the biggest health crises in recent history, to develop strategies in an increasingly interconnected world," explains Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer DHL. "To protect human lives from the pandemic, governments have played a more active role in healthcare supply chains. In recent months, we have shown that sufficient planning and proper supply chain cooperation can play a decisive role in governments' assurance of critical health supplies during health emergencies like this."

Future management of public health crises will include public-private cooperation

Since the onset of the pandemic, demand for medical supplies has increased. For example, UNICEF acquired 100 times more masks and 2,000 times more medical gloves than in 2019. Bringing medical supplies from a distant source so that they could be used on the front line has been one of the most essential activities of pandemic response management in the first phase of the health emergency. For the PPE in particular, internal logistics was a major challenge due to geographical concentration of production, limited air cargo capabilities and lack of arrival quality controls. To ensure a stable supply of medical equipment in future health crises, governments will need to establish a detailed scheme of strategies and structures for public health crises, in collaboration with both the public and private sectors.

"In the Americas and globally, DHL has played a vital role during the pandemic with effective logistical management of PPE and medical supplies. Since the beginning of this health crisis, there have been lessons learned and identified that we should prepare for a massive and urgent distribution of the vaccine," said Claudia Roa, DHL's Life Sciences and Healthcare VP for the Americas. "Logistics management of these supplies during a crisis such as the one being experienced requires extensive experience in the transport and supply chain of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, as well as a broad global network such as DHL's strong and flexible enough to adapt to the challenges of a global pandemic. The characteristics of COVID-19 vaccines will require more complex logistical management, so the importance of close collaboration between the public and private sectors for effective distribution at the global level."

To initiate dialogue between different actors and improve resilience to the pandemic in the logistics of medical supplies, DHL provides a framework for the collaboration of logistics companies with authorities, politicians, NGGs and the life sciences sector. This framework helps to establish measures to ensure the highest possible degree of stability and safety for supply chains. In addition to an emergency response plan, the framework includes a network of cooperations, a strong physical logistics infrastructure, and transparency in the supply chain thanks to IT tools. Finally, a response unit should be formed with a clear mandate to quickly implement all critical activities.

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