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Logistics

Covid-19 vaccine will test India’s cold-chain system to limits

While vaccine manufacturers express scepticism to produce the volumes of the doses needed, which need to serve the Indian population of approximately 1.33 billion people, logistics and transport industry plays a central role in creating a cold-chain system that will maintain the potency of the vaccine in this Covid-19 irradiation initiative

Covid-19 vaccine will test India%u2019s cold-chain system to limits
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Covid-19 vaccine will test India%u2019s cold-chain system to limits

While vaccine manufacturers express scepticism to produce the volumes of the doses needed, which need to serve the Indian population of approximately 1.33 billion people, logistics and transport industry plays a central role in creating a cold-chain system that will maintain the potency of the vaccine in this Covid-19 irradiation initiative.

Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has already enrolled a vaccine candidate Covaxin for clinical trials in partnership with Bharat Biotech and the Drug Controller General of India has also approved human trials for another vaccine candidate ZyCov-D by Zydus Cadila. Simultaneously, there are about 11 vaccine candidates that have been approved for human trials shortlisted from 140 vaccine candidates globally.

There is a never seen before consilience between regulatory approvals and manufacturing, which is at play. And while there is a great support being lent to clinical trials, many vaccine manufacturers are already planning for large-scale manufacturing up front, ready to take massive financial risks, even before knowing whether or not the vaccine will work.

With great haste, pharmaceuticals and biotech companies are forcing and demanding logistics community to assemble links and create a cold chain system that is speedy and immaculate. A system that distributes vaccine with its potency intact from the manufacturing site to the point of vaccine administration. While not breaking the cold chain tops the priority list, the potential reach of India’s logistics sector, especially the remote corners of the country, remains a concern.

Highlighting one of the most successful vaccination programmes, Parag Deshmukh, additional director, global strategic business development, Serum Institute of India, shared insights on the reach of the vaccine during a webinar conducted by the India Transport and Logistics News: “Even in the best of scenarios, when we had things going normally, we had diseases such as polio and measles reaching targets, even through UN agencies and country networks, not up to 85-90 percent, or even 70 percent in some vaccine cases,” he added “Now, when we get to Covid-19, we cannot leave even 15 percent or 10 percent of our population without the vaccine, because that 10-15 percent is going to create a rollover effect with the Covid-19, especially when there's a mutation happening with the virus.”

Companies specialising in making temperature-controlled containers like Envirotainer SkyCell, va-Q-tec, DoKasch etc. are preparing to meet the cold-box requirement for the vaccine. From production and preconditioning to final delivery. Informing on the speculative preconditioning needed for the vaccine, Deshmukh explained that “Normally the vaccine industry works on WHO type one, type two and type three classification of a cold tray management and we would like to be indicating that there is a big range — you can go up to 35 degrees and down to 2 degrees and not frozen. So, (the vaccine) would be in that range, but the storage for a longer duration would be 2 to 8 degrees.

Multimodal is the economical way
The informed temperature range of 2 to 8 degrees needed in case of storing the vaccine for a longer period places a heavy reliance on air transport for the vaccine delivery. However, the lost air cargo capacity due to the grounded passenger fleet and with it its belly hold have spiked up the cargo rates to an uneconomical levels. “You also have to look at the cost. So the concern has been the curtailment of the passenger flights because a lot of belly space you could ride on to a host of destinations, which when you contract that is suddenly not available to you. The other concern also is the spiralling rates because as the planes were parked on the tarmac, that costs have to be loaded on to the other operators that were being operated by the airlines,” explained Alan Fernandes, Consultant, Zentiva during the webinar.

The contingency plan to transport the vaccine, keeping the economics of the vaccine distribution in mind, will have to adopt a multimodal solution. Fernandes also informed that the "Vaccine manufacturers are looking into other modes of transports including the ocean as they also have to consider the cost along with speed and efficiency of the supply chain.

A multimodal solution for the vaccine distribution will call for a massive mobilisation of cold chain equipments used for storing and distributing the vaccine. “So as a manufacturer, I would like to see, you know how best I could reach my product, but also look at the affordability part of it. And in order to average out everything, we generally talk of only air we talk only sea or sometimes we talk of sea and air as a multi modal solution. What we need to really click on is a combo. So can you work on air and at the same time sea as working in parallel,” Fernades added.

Every equipment capable enough for adequate temperature maintenance would have to generate a highest cold chain compliance score. “We all know that once you get vaccines in a supply chain and as soon as you have temperature fluctuation, even two or three degrees up or down within the specifications, already has a tremendous effect on the functionality of the vaccine. So, the more stable the supply chain is the better the shelf life, which also means that the availability increases,” explained Marrie Groeneveld, chief commercial officer with SkyCell during the webinar.

Trucking, warehousing, first-mile and last-mile deliveries will have to work in tandem by making available the data of the shipment to all the stakeholders in the supply chain.

Digitisation will play a central role in creating the transparency that would be needed to monitor the integrity of the vaccine across supply chains. We may also see players like cargo drones entering the cold chain system for the last-mile deliveries in remote and hard to reach corners of the country. Covid-19 vaccine will demand a plethora innovations from the logistics community if the vaccine has to reach every single person in the country, and in the process test India’s cold-chain system like never done before.

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