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Snowman Logistics plans to deploy refrigerated trucks for the distribution of vaccines.
Snowman Logistics plans to deploy refrigerated trucks for the distribution of vaccines.

Cold chain cos gear up for covid vaccine delivery challenge

The plan involves tapping all available cold chain and warehouse operators in the country, said executives at logistics companies

Indian cold chain operators have started work to prepare an efficient logistics network to ensure the smooth delivery of covid-19 vaccines to its more than 1.3 billion people. This comes amid hopes that a vaccine for the deadly infectious disease will be ready by the end of this year or early next year.

Safe delivery of the doses for mass vaccination will be the biggest challenge for any country, especially the world’s second-most populous nation.

The plan involves tapping all available cold chain and warehouse operators in the country, said executives at logistics companies. While a bulk of the vaccines will be distributed through the Centre’s Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) mechanism, executives also expect that the government will rope in private cold chain operators.

“It is important to understand that there is not enough capacity available. So, in each city, they will have to look for companies, including private ones, who have cold storage facilities and who can take care of distribution, of course under the Centre’s directive," Snowman Logistics chief executive officer Sunil Nair said in an interview.

Snowman Logistics, India’s largest cold-chain network and a subsidiary of Gateway Distriparks Ltd, plans to set aside one chamber each across its 31 facilities in India and deploy refrigerated trucks for vaccine distribution as and when it receives regulatory approval.

Gati Ltd’s cold chain business, Gati Kausar, will use its fleet of 120 trucks for delivering vaccines, said a company spokesperson. “While we are not expanding our cold chain operations at the moment, we intend to do so after January and will proceed in accordance with a well-defined strategy and plan," the person said.

To be sure, maintaining optimum temperature for vaccines is crucial and will pose the biggest hurdle in transportation.

“When vaccines enter the market for emergency use (potentially in Q4 2020), the lack of stability data might lead to stricter temperature control at the vaccine supply chain," global logistics giant DHL Group said in a white paper, co-authored with McKinsey & Co., earlier this month.

India’s UIP is supported by more than 27,000 cold chain facilities, of which 3% are at the district level and above, and the rest at the local level, according to the government’s comprehensive multi-year UIP plan for 2018-22.

However, all cold chains, including those of the private sector, support temperatures of up to -30 degree Celsius. In contrast, Gennova Biopharma’s mRNA candidate requires storage at -70 degree C. With lack of storage at that the temperature, the company will be working on its own cold chain logistics network with some help from the government, CEO Sanjay Singh said.

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