One year into the pandemic crisis several pharma companies have successfully developed COVID-19 vaccines and achieved regulatory approval. Although the vaccination programs of the population is advancing in many countries, it is clear by now that the worldwide demand is exceeding the supply.
The demand for continuous distribution on a global scale is what we need to prepare for. Additionally, expected delays and corrupted cold chain issues same as falsifications became reality. To counteract bottlenecks when incident levels cannot be controlled anymore, the despair has reached levels facilitating the purchase of vaccines even without EMA approval from Russia and China as being reported out of Czech Republic, Hungary, San Marino and Italy. Nevertheless, in the fight against the virus, having a reliable vaccine distribution remains extremely important. But with fast-growing and changing supply networks requiring rapid adaptations, innovative logistics solutions are key to minimize the loses along the supply chain.
Visibility, connectivity, and analytics are key
One of the biggest milestones in a pandemic crisis is obviously achieved, when a safe and effective vaccine is developed and ready for distribution. But it is of the same priority that the product reaches the target group at the planned time in the right quantity and quality. The first COVID-19 vaccines were only available in small quantities. Furthermore, most products must be transported at low or even very low temperatures. Without a reliable high-quality distribution of the product to the global population, the potential of the vaccine in the fight against the Corona virus cannot be fully exploited.
Based on our experience in digital transformation in the pharmaceutical industry, we see three main areas emerging as particularly important for overcoming the current crisis with reliable logistics:
Visibility: For a product with supply shortage and temperature-sensitiveness like the COVID-19 vaccines, close to real-time information about the location as well as product quality parameters throughout the entire logistics chain are more important than before. In case of deviations during the shipment, corrective actions are possible in this way without waiting until arrival.
Connectivity: In pandemics, it becomes specifically clear how important the exchange of information between the different partners along the supply chain is. The fast data and document exchange between parties such as shippers, forwarders, governmental authorities, vaccination centers, wholesalers and doctors can accelerate processes and allows faster and more coordinated reactions to unforeseen events. Those could be because of extended waiting time due to closed borders or capacity constraints at (air)ports, disconnected power supply of the cooling system of a reefer container or simply extreme weather conditions.
Analytics: In pandemics, when time and capacities are particularly constraint and transport routes in many cases at least partially new, it is important to assess the best transportation solutions according to the lowest possible risk of damage, theft, and delay. Innovative analytical solutions accelerate the process effectively.
Figure 1: Extract of logistics digital transformation solutions
To exploit the full potential of digital transformation an optimal solution should address the areas of visibility, connectivity, and analytics as part of an integrated approach. There is already a variety of innovative but proven digital solutions in these three key areas on the market, being able to support the current logistical challenge of the vaccine distribution as well as the related medical treatments. In the following you will find exemplary digital solutions from each of these three areas, which we consider as particularly promising.
Increase visibility by using smart sensor technology
For products like the COVID-19 vaccine, which are not only very temperature-sensitive, but of high value, potentially at risk of theft, fraud and sabotage, and simply urgently needed, innovative sensors should not only detect temperature. In such case they should also support close to real-time tracking during transport, continuously submitting their location and product quality related data. In case of temperature deviation during transport, delay, or in case the shipment left the expected corridor due to an eventual theft, real-time alerts allow corrective actions like informing responsible partners along the supply chain or adjusting transport scheduling.
Platform technology for more connectivity among supply chain partners
Sensor data providing e.g., real-time tracking often needs to be combined with telematic data of container ships, planes and even trucks. Commercial agreements and costly EDI connections should not limit the access and exchange of those. Connectivity therefore is of high importance, when time is a critical factor, like in the current COVID-19 crisis. Innovative platform technology can be used to exchange real time information between all parties along the supply chain. Furthermore, the exchange of documents can be supported or even automated via the platform to accelerate processes constraint through email or telephone communication. If there are changes such as delivery date or quantity, all parties involved are automatically informed. The platforms might also integrate the active use of weather and traffic data to predict risks for delays and suggest alternative transport routes or even modes. The use of Blockchain technology can form an integral part of such solutions for the pharma or vaccine supply chain.
Use of analytics for lane risk assessment
As described above, it can be of high importance to be informed in real time when issues or deviations occur. But it is even more important trying to minimize the occurrence of such risk upfront. Since the COVID-19 vaccine is a very temperature-sensitive product, there is a high risk that the product will be damaged due to interruption of the cold chain during the shipment. This must be limited by using transport providers that are duly qualified. The risk also must be reduced by choosing the right transportation lane, carrier and mode. The identification and analysis of options is a critical and usually a very time-consuming task. Available analytical solutions can help in a fast and effectively way to find the best transportation lane considering historical temperature records as well as the most reliable and qualified service provider based on available GDP certificates. Those solutions allow transportation lane risk assessments and simulations of options depending on the requirements of the product for various transportation and transshipment point categories as well as packaging types. As time is a decisive factor for the vaccine distribution, the long-haul transports are largely carried out by air freight. Here, available solutions can help compare and identify e.g., the best airlines, with fewest delays and transit airports with the lowest risk for too high or too low temperature exposure. This saves time and ensures the quality of the product.
It’s time to integrate digital transportation solutions
The current pandemic shows how important the use of digital solutions in logistics is. Interruptions and delays in logistics should not become an obstacle in this very critical supply chain. On the contrary, the potential of digital logistics solutions, as described above, should be used to overcome the critical pandemic situation even faster.
To be prepared for further logistical challenges, CAMELOT can support and guide you on your individual path towards digital transformation – from strategy to implementation. Please contact our experts to find out more.
We would like to thank Johanna Strasser for her valuable contribution to this article.