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Covid-19: how vaccine transportation could be the next challenge for fleets

Covid-19: how vaccine transportation could be the next challenge for fleets

You’ve heard all about the Herculean efforts by the world’s top scientists to develop a vaccine for Coronavirus. But what about further down the line: transporting the finished product from pharmaceutical factories to clinics around the world?

The process of manufacturing, packaging, and distributing the Coronavirus vaccine has been called “the biggest logistical challenge the world has ever faced”. And commercial vehicles – particularly refrigerated trucks – will have a crucial role to play.

Excitingly, the UK could well become a global hub for this activity. While there are around 120 vaccines in development around the world, two of the most promising candidates are from Oxford University and Imperial College, London. 

Of course, we don’t yet know exactly what will be required from the logistics sector. But what we do know is this. 

Most vaccines must be kept cold: the influenza vaccine can be stored at normal fridge temperature of 2˚C and 8˚C, but some vaccines in development for Covid-19 need to be kept at -80 ˚C.

So the cold chain network – thermal packaging, refrigerated commercial vehicles, and temperature-controlled storage – will be vital.  However, existing networks may struggle to cope with increased demand.  

Drugs usually have strict expiry dates, so it’s vital that routes are carefully planned, and red tape cleared. After all the grief and trauma of the pandemic, nobody wants to see consignments of these lifesaving vaccines languishing at ports.  

And it’s possible that this incredibly tricky logistics process will need to be ready as early as this autumn – giving fleet managers of commercial vehicles very little time for planning. 

As Pawanexh Kohli, Honorary Professor at the University of Birmingham says: “We cannot afford to ignore that the next trouble spot will be executing a globally networked delivery mechanism for the COVID-19 vaccine. It may be the only way to stop this virus in its tracks and get civilisation back on its feet.”

So what will this delivery mechanism involve? In some areas, particularly remote regions in developing countries, it might be possible to use existing food industry cold chains, which are often better developed and reach further than pharmaceutical ones. 

Globally, research is under way into cooling systems that are more environmentally friendly and easier to maintain. 

And in the UK, there have been some intriguing and innovative ideas on how to avoid overwhelming both the supply chain and healthcare services. 

One idea is to turn shipping containers into mobile vaccination units, which could be transported by articulated lorry and set up in carparks around the UK. The architects behind the concept claim it would see 60 million Brits vaccinated in just 12-16 weeks. 

Whatever the solutions, it is going to require a mammoth effort on the part of the commercial vehicle sector. President Trump has already said that “every plane, truck and soldier” will be required to deliver the vaccine across America. 

But truckers and fleet managers have done brilliantly in keeping supply chains going throughout the lockdown period. I am confident they can rise to this next challenge too.

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