The discovery of the vaccine against the Corona Virus has brought about great hope and relief across the globe. In the almost 24 months since the global COVID-19 pandemic spread its tentacles, economies, enterprises, livelihoods, and people have been snuffed off life while others continue to deal with debilitating effects of the pandemic. A World Health Organization document titled, “Covid-19 Strategy Update- dated 14th April 2020” states, “The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‑19) pandemic is exacting a huge toll on individuals, families, communities, and societies across the world. Daily lives have been profoundly changed, economies have fallen into recession, and many of the traditional social, economic, and public health safety nets that many people rely on in times of hardship have been put under unprecedented strain.”
The virus often brought to fore the often-ignored symbiotic relationship between quality public health for a thriving economy. Governments were forced to take tough measures to ensure the safety of its people even when it threatened its economic survival. There is hope that the COVD-19 vaccine will offer some sense of normalcy, now defined as the ‘new normal’, even as its distribution relies on a strong supply chain management team to support the vaccination process.
Supply chain and logistics players have stepped up with other global heroes to ensure efficient distribution of the vaccine to support immunizations programs across the globe. The handling and distribution has placed great emphasis on monitoring and controlling vaccine temperature to preserve the quality from manufacturer all the way to distributors all over the world. The unique requirements have demanded the most from players in the supply chain and logistics sector to embrace innovation as well as stretch their people and capacity to the required standard.
It has been loosely said that the COVID-19 vaccines need to be kept colder than Antarctica. This truth is seen in the temperature storage of some vaccines which require between minus 80 to minus 60 degrees Celsius and failure to observe this requirement will reduce its efficacy, especially in the tropical regions. This ultra-low temperature cold chain varies greatly with most pharmaceuticals which often require a minimum temperature of -4 degrees Celsius.
The logistical challenges facing vaccine distribution have been attributed to the fact that 80% of the vaccine manufacturing is happening in Europe and North America. As such, transporting the vaccine to the rest of the world in the required state has come with varied complications that have also hampered last mile delivery. The WHO Covid-19 vaccination; supply chain and logistics interim guidelines of February 2021 indicate that volumes of incoming shipments for both COVID-19 vaccines and ancillary products and their delivery frequencies should be aligned to existing storage and distribution capacity at the initial and final delivery point destinations, and in consideration with the strategy to reach target populations. Whenever applicable, countries are encouraged to seek additional storage and distribution capacity from their partners, including outsourcing from the private sector.
It is without a doubt that supply chain readiness is key to efficiently deploying COVID-19 vaccines to the target populations in line with defined vaccination strategies. In the UAE, a consortium of government and key supply chain players has partnered to help vaccinate people in the UAE and Africa against Covid-19. This venture has the potential of distribution 6 billion vaccines across the globe this year and projected to achieve 18 billion in the year 2022. In a news article Dr Omar Najim, from Abu Dhabi’s Department of Health takes pride in being in the biggest vaccination logistics centre in the region, and one of the largest globally. The consortium takes care of the vaccination process from the time the aircraft arrives, delivers the vaccines to the people and through partnership oversees the vaccination process. It is through continuous improvement, harmonization, collaboration and alignment with current industry initiatives that will transform the new future with the existence of COVID-19.
Closer home, Kenyan logistics companies continue to stretch their capacity to ensure they preserve the cool chain in handling the COVID-19 vaccines. Siginon Aviation formed part of the team that received the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines for Kenya. The 1.02 million doses of the Astra Zeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine were received at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi in March 2021, as part of the COVAX facility kicking off the vaccination program targeting front liners comprising of health workers and security forces. The smooth handover of the vaccines was a joint effort between the cargo airline, Siginon Aviation the ground handler, freight forwarder, Ministry of Health officials who transferred the vaccines onwards to the government warehouse for preservation and distribution. Indeed, private and public sector partnerships lead to higher efficiencies for the greater good.
It is said that Covid-19 will be here with us for a while. If you are eligible, make sure you get vaccinated and encourage those around you to do the same.