From lab to jab: the logistical challenge of getting the Covid-19 vaccine into arms across the world

From lab to jab: the logistical challenge of getting the Covid-19 vaccine into arms across the world

Rashid Abdulla |

The scientific feat of rapidly developed highly-effective vaccines has brought light to the end of the tunnel for the pandemic – helping to save lives and restore economic recovery.

However, the challenge has shifted from developing the vaccines to ensuring equitable and safe distribution of the vaccines to vulnerable people and eventually every single person around the world.

This will be the one of the most important, widespread and complex logistical operations ever performed. We must be clear-eyed about the challenge if we are to succeed. However, it is also our opportunity, as an industry, to clearly demonstrate how vital a part we can and do play in every-day life around the globe, 365 days a year.

If Covid-19 is rampant in one place, it can impact all of us, as we’ve seen with the spread of new variants that can be more transmissible. Countries in the developed world, such as the UK and the US, have had a truly impressive vaccine rollout, but the imperative is shifting to vaccination equity.

Of the approximately 12 billion doses the pharmaceutical industry is expected to produce next year, roughly 9 billion shots have already been reserved by developed countries, representing just 14% of the world’s population. This is not good enough. It is vital that everyone has access to the vaccine, wherever they are and regardless of their wealth.

This is a humanitarian crisis and unless we vaccinate everyone, the pandemic will not end for anyone. Economic benefits of a global equitable vaccine solution will be at least US$153 billion this year, and US$466 billion by 2025 for the richest countries, according to a report commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

We need to get Covid jabs to the developing world in order to protect us all so that we can start the huge challenge of fixing the global economy.

More than 90% of vaccines are expected to be produced in the United States, the European Union, the UK, India and China. However, the vaccine needs to reach the four billion people living outside of these countries, and that’s where the logistical challenge comes in.

One of the challenges is in the cold chain requirements for vaccines. This is especially important for vaccines using new m-RNA technology that require temperatures as cold as -70 Celsius, presenting obstacles in airport handling, warehousing, dry ice facilities and last-mile distribution.

Creating an end-to-end solution for the vaccines from factory to arm is paramount if we’re going to be successful in vaccinating everyone. Global partnerships and collaboration are absolutely vital in removing these obstacles.

In Europe we are fortunate as a large amount of vaccines are manufactured in the region, but we must do all we can to spread these out across the rest of the world where it is most urgently required.

UNICEF is leading the procurement and delivery of 2 billion doses this year to more than 100 countries on behalf of COVAX. DP World operates in most of those countries; therefore, we are partnering with UNICEF on vaccine logistics, providing storage, transport, port services, knowledge sharing and technical expertise.

Last month we helped UNICEF to transport medical supplies to those in need, including 2 million face shields and 200,000 surgical masks and we are looking forward to supporting their vital work more in the coming months. We are doing this, for free, not because it is just a humanitarian and ethical imperative, but it is also in the interest of everyone.

Planning is essential. This needs to be done across several sectors and industry wide, spanning all the way from national governments to individual health facilities, from head offices to frontline staffing.

These solutions will require collective investment and cooperation if we are going to get back to a sense of normality.

With over 3 million lives already lost to Covid-19, the world is depending on getting the logistics right. The stakes of rising to the challenge could not be higher.