Summary: IATA Webinar – Global Distribution and the Flow of Vaccines throughout the Supply Chain

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By Kim Biggar

IATA presented the second of three webinars on the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines on November 24. An overview of that webinar follows. (A recap of the first webinar, “Readiness for vaccine and life science products transportation,” is available in The Forwarder Online.)

The two-hour second webinar, attended by about 700 stakeholders, featured several speakers:

  • Mounir Bouazar – Emergency Logistics Manager and Logistics Lead for COVAX, UNICEF
  • Leena Scaria – Director, Global New Vaccine Products Public Policy, Merck
  • Patricia Cole – Global Head of Temperature Management Solutions, DHL Global Forwarding
  • Kirsten de Bruijn – Sr. VP, Cargo Sales and Network Planning, Qatar Airways Cargo
  • Rupert Batstone – VP, Business Support, Swissport

COVAX is the global mechanism for distribution of COVID vaccines, co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization. Canada is among the 182 countries—representing about 80 percent of the world’s population—participating in the COVAX platform.

COVAX aims to deliver 2 billion doses of vaccine by the end of 2021 through a process designed to ensure equitable access for all participating nations. (A total of about 10 billion doses are estimated to be required globally to immunize all people against the virus.)

The many unknowns related to the vaccines—temperature conditions, weights, timelines, for example—make completing plans at this stage impossible. Much work is ongoing, however, to identify potential bottlenecks and challenges in the distribution process.

Potential challenges discussed by the presenters include the following:

  • Sufficient availability of vaccines
  • Planning transportation to regions not accessed by commercial flights – collaboration is required to enable solutions
  • Complexity related to pharmaceutical regulations
  • Limits on airport capacity
  • Availability of other required supplies: PPE, syringes, needles, alcohol prep pads, and so on (these items need to be in place before vaccines arrive to avoid delays in immunization)
  • Limits on air cargo capacities: planes, temperature-control equipment, dry ice, for example
  • Adequate cold-chain transportation and storage systems, particularly in countries with warm climates and/or limited infrastructure
  • Schedule reliability for on-time deliveries
  • Possibility of delays at borders
  • Personnel untrained to deal with pharmaceuticals, cold-chain requirements and dry ice at all points in the supply chain
  • Personnel shortages due to coronavirus – where shortages might cause delays, people need to be cross-trained to take on new roles
  • Risk of theft, tampering and counterfeits
  • Ability to properly track the vaccines in all locations – different vaccines with different requirements and different doses make this necessary

Most of the speakers emphasized the need for partners throughout the supply chain to share information as it becomes available. In normal times, developing the partnerships, regulations, systems and infrastructure for such an enormous undertaking would take years; now, with that time not being available, all stakeholders must prepare as well as they can by enhancing what is currently available and be able to evolve quickly to meet needs. Further complicating the situation is how COVID has already impacted air transportation players; many are “just surviving,” said Batstone, with people shortages and financial constraints that could limit abilities to plan and prepare.

IATA will host one more webinar on the topic of transporting vaccines. The third session will be held early in 2021, after the first vaccines have been issued. It will look at key learnings from the distribution effort. You can register for that webinar and access presentation slides and recorded webinars, including the session described above, at www.iata.org/en/events/webinars.