It will take an estimated 8,000 747 jumbo jets to transport the Covid-19 vaccine worldwide © Getty Images
It will take an estimated 8,000 747 jumbo jets to transport the Covid-19 vaccine worldwide © Getty Images

8,000 jets and the ‘world’s largest vaccine procurement’

10 September 2020

Unicef will lead on the procurement and supply of Covid-19 vaccines in what it claims could be “the world’s largest and fastest ever procurement and supply of vaccines”. 

Under the scheme, Unicef would lead efforts to procure doses of vaccines on behalf of 92 low-income and lower middle-income countries.

It would also serve as a coordinator to support vaccine procurement by 80 higher-income economies, which would finance the vaccines from their own public finance budgets.

Unicef is the largest single vaccine buyer in the world, procuring more than 2bn doses of vaccines annually for routine immunisation and outbreak response.

Sacha Deshmukh, executive director at Unicef UK, said: “For the first time, we have a clear picture of what is possible when it comes to delivering a Covid-19 vaccine. As governments, manufacturers, researchers and suppliers work tirelessly in the fight against coronavirus, Unicef will lead the charge to ensure that all countries have access to the initial doses when they are available.”

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned it would take the equivalent of 8,000 747 jumbo jets to transport a single dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to cover the 7.8bn global population.

IATA boss Alexandre de Juniac said the vaccine delivery would be the “largest single transport challenge ever” for the air cargo industry.

He urged governments to take the lead and work with the entire logistics chain to ensure facilities, security arrangements and border processes are ready for the “mammoth and complex task”. 

Separately, a report by DHL and McKinsey said public-private partnerships would be key to enable governments to build a network of warehouses and transportation capabilities, including the use of IT to ensure there is real-time supply chain transparency. 

The report said stringent temperature restrictions and the availability of high-performance cold chain logistics would be a structural challenge for the industry.

It said: “As Covid-19 vaccines have leapfrogged development phases, stringent temperature requirements (up to -80C) are likely to be imposed for certain vaccines to ensure that their efficacy is maintained during transportation and warehousing. This poses novel logistics challenges to the existing medical supply chain that conventionally distributes vaccines at +2–8C.” 

Large parts of Africa, South America and Asia could not be readily supplied at scale due to a lack of cold-chain logistics capacity suitable for life science products, it added.  

According to the report, governments and private sector firms should work together on establishing a strategic response plan to health emergencies that outlines which supply chain activities can be ad-hoc and which should be preplanned. 

The report cited challenges faced throughout the first wave of Covid-19 infections, such as the dramatic increase in demand for medical supplies. 

Inbound logistics and distribution were identified as major supply chain pain points, particularly for personal protective equipment (PPE) the report said. 

Challenges included “product-quality issues, constrained transportation capacity, complex customs processes and regulations increasing the risk of delays, warehousing challenges, and limited transparency regarding stock levels”.

“When procuring PPE from overseas, agreeing to purchase terms with local suppliers has proven difficult for governments who often lack local knowledge and supplier liaisons. In the case of therapeutics and testing supplies, the urgency of the situation – combined with limited supply and lack of clarity regarding regulatory approvals – further complicated the procurement process,” the report added.

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