Distribution of COVID-19 vaccines: Supply Chain challenges for the logistics of Coronavirus vaccine

October 26, 2020 12:32 PM

In India, the trade deficit has narrowed to USD 6.77 billion in August 2020, the major reason being plummeting imports by more than 43%.

As many as 40 million doses of such vaccine will be available by the end of the year, it said. (Representational image: Reuters)

By Dr. Ambrish Kumar

Since the pandemic, the global air cargo figures went down by almost 30% YoY. Nevertheless, as per IATA, by Q3 of 2020, the gap is narrowing to 13% YoY.

In India, the trade deficit has narrowed to USD 6.77 billion in August 2020, the major reason being plummeting imports by more than 43%. This is a good sign as exports have increased for products like pharmaceuticals (21%), organic chemicals, vaccines, medical goods. Also, the re-opening of major economies of the world has propelled trade continuity. The global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometres (CTKs), was initially down by 23% YoY, improved to minus 13% by July 2020. The performance of Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) that measures the economic condition of the manufacturing sector, returned to above 50 points month-on-month by Q3 of 2020 which had dipped to below 30 points in April, signs of the improving international economic activity.

The non-operation of scheduled international passenger flights has led to a serious reduction in belly capacity. As per IATA, belly capacity for international air cargo reduced by more than 70% during the pandemic. The belly capacity share is almost 40% of the total global capacity, measured in available cargo tonne-kilometres (ACTKs). The remaining 60% of air cargo moves on Cargo aircrafts. The IATA figures suggest that there is an average slump of almost 32% in the ACTKs as compared to previous year.

Moreover, most air carriers are operating smaller aircrafts as per passenger demands to operational costs. However, there are limitations on these narrow-bodied aircrafts for cargo that requires special handling like temperature control, unitised loading, heavy goods load-ability, big-sized cargo and so on. While a wide-bodied aircraft can carry goods between 10-30 tons per flight depending on the aircraft type, the capacity of a narrow-bodied aircraft is only 2-6 tons per flight. Also, smaller aircrafts cannot fly for more than 4-5 hours at a stretch, so long-haul air cargo movement is hindered.

The fore-running vaccine candidates across the world are reaching the core human trials stages. The global demand is to produce vaccines for 7.8 billion people. The massive challenge is the global distribution and logistics of the vaccine. There will be dire need of robust and falter-proof supply chain integration and phenomenal air cargo capacity by early 2021. The vaccines require express transportation, large cold storage facilities at transit points, professionals with handling expertise, need of palletization and unitisation of goods. Air Cargo capacity will be in high demand to get the vaccines to various parts of the world. All this would need wide-bodied aircrafts and freighters to operate.

The risk factor and security concerns involved in logistics for the vaccines cannot be ignored. The panic can lead to cases of pilferage, tampering, robbery, during the transit. Logistics of vaccines would require special planning, secured loading and safeguarding throughout its movement like that of valuable goods like gold, silver, currency notes, etc.

This is the time when rigorous technology-based solutions, supply-chain transparency and visibility, risk-mitigation and seamless logistics management is sought with the help of latest technologies. In nutshell, the whole world is waiting for the vaccine fervently and we ought to work together to make this mission possible!

(The author is Founder of Zipaworld and Group CEO, AAA 2 Innovate Private Ltd. Views expressed are personal.)

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