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Companies fix gaps in supply chain as vaccines await clearance

Most vaccines would be required to be transported at -20 degree of temperature (REUTERS)Premium
Most vaccines would be required to be transported at -20 degree of temperature (REUTERS)

  • Companies that have been working with the government in the distribution of polio vaccines will continue the partnership for covid-19 vaccine distribution
  • The government will tightly control the procurement of the vaccines under the first phase, which is expected to last several months

Logistics and supply chain companies preparing to meet the impending demand for vaccine transport, are expanding warehousing facilities, procuring refrigerated trucks, containers and temperature-controlled packaging systems, and deploying technology to track movement and monitor temperature.

Companies that have been working with the government in the distribution of polio vaccines will continue the partnership for covid-19 vaccine distribution, starting early next year, executives at these companies said.

Leading logistics firms such as Kool-Ex Cold Chain Ltd, Snowman Logistics Ltd, Transport Corporation of India (TCI), Allcargo Logistics Ltd, Blue Dart Express Ltd and DHL Express are expected to work with central and state government bodies and pharmaceutical companies in the first phase of covid-19 vaccine distribution across India.

The government will tightly control the procurement of the vaccines under the first phase, which is expected to last several months. The government plans to provide these doses to people with high risks, front-line health workers, doctors, state employees, army, and administration staff.

“A majority of private logistics companies would be able to step in only after April 2021 to participate in the vaccine distribution," said Jasjit Sethi, chief executive officer, TCI Supply Chain Solutions.

“There will be a lot of on-ground, short-term requirement of reefer trucks and temperature-controlled warehousing setups across regions. We continue to procure more capacity in terms of warehousing space," he said.

TCI has over 12 million sq.ft of ambient warehousing space (where the temperature needs to be room temperature) and more than 200,000 sq.ft of refrigerated storage space. “We have a dedicated fleet of about 400 reefer trucks, of which over 100 are owned and operated by us. That said, more reefer trucks can be arranged if required," Sethi said. Most vaccines would be required to be transported at -20 degree of temperature, similar to how polio vaccines are conventionally distributed, he added.

According to Saurabh Garg, partner–corporate finance, KPMG in India, given the large scale and time constraints, it is critical for vaccine manufacturers, logistics companies and the government to work closely in planning and implementing the entire immunization programme.

“Vaccine transportation and at this scale is a daunting task and most vaccine candidates for Indian market would need cold storage and transportation across the chain (at least 2-8 °C). Apart from infrastructure (cold storage and reefers), solutions around tracking the sustainability of temperatures across the chain will also be critical and technology would play an extremely important role here," Garg said.

He added that vaccine manufacturers and logistics companies have already started pilots to figure out effective distribution strategies.

“Mapping of existing cold storage and reefer fleets is being done and logistics companies are being told to augment the existing capacities by prioritizing vaccine storage and transportation," Garg said.

While it remains unclear if India’s pharma distribution ecosystem will be able to meet the required number of reefer trucks for vaccine transportation, Yashpal Sharma, managing director, Skyways Group told Mint that logistics firms are also procuring temperature-controlled packaging systems, called credo boxes or soft-boxes. “These boxes can maintain low temperatures for 5-6 days, which can be used to transport the vaccines. Since these boxes can maintain low temperatures on their own, they can be transported in regular trucks too," Sharma said, adding that his company has procured about 250 such boxes already.

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