Delivering what matters to move the world forward
It was late on Friday December 11, 2020 that the Pfizer-BioNTechCovid vaccine was authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. Two days later on Monday the vaccines were delivered to 145 hospitals, clinics and public health systems in all 50 states. While the researchers in the vaccine development worked hard for months to get this vaccine to fight the pandemic, there were logistics companies working hard to ensure a smooth deployment of vaccines to the US and the rest of the world as quickly as possible. Such extensive preparations and detailed planning by logistics companies, like UPS, guaranteed the deployment and distribution of vaccine within 24 hours of emergency use authorisation by the federal agencies.
“This is undoubtedly a historic feat not only for vaccine development but also expedient deployment.” That is how Mike McDermott, president, Pfizer Global Supply, responded in a statement about the extra ordinary speed and agility at which the roll out was done. “We know that agile, world-class logistics is critical to get our products where they are needed, and we’re happy to partner with UPS in this historic effort to save lives and create healthier communities right now and well into the future,” McDermott added.
Ten days later UPS successfully delivered the first batches of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Saudi Arabia from Brussels in Belgium. Saudi Arabia was the first Arab country to roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, marking a milestone in the ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This was soon followed by UPS successfully completing same-day international delivery of the vaccine in Qatar. UPS also delivered the vaccine to Jordan last month.
In an interview to STAT Media Group, Rachid Fergati, managing director, Middle East and Indian subcontinent for UPS talks to Reji John about how prepared the world’s leading shipping and logistics company is for the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines around the world. Fergati supervises the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, the Kingdom of Saudi (KSA), Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Jordan markets in the Middle East. In addition, he continues to lead India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Maldives. He is responsible for driving inclusive growth across these markets and has anchored key positions for UPS globally.
As a continuation of his prior role as managing director for the Indian Subcontinent since 2017, Fergati has led strategic initiatives and investments to increase business efficiency in order to make the global marketplace more accessible for customers across these high growth markets.
For the year ahead and for the next one, vaccine movement and delivery will be a key priority for UPS as it facilitates global trade and commerce by doing what it does best - moving the world forward by delivering what matters.
Vaccines brought by UPS from Brussels arrive in Qatar
Give us a sense of the preparation for the two batches of vaccines that had been brought to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
We have been working for months to get ready for this historical moment. After delivering those vaccines in Canada and the US, for the first time we delivered the Pfizer vaccine in the Middle East, first to Saudi Arabia, and then a few days later to Qatar. This was possible thanks to our UPSers who were involved in all trials that we had done in the past and we could do it in record time because of the support we got from the local authorities in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Does the complexity of shipping conditions increase as this was an international movement?
As you know Pfizer vaccine has a very specific temperature requirement of being maintained at -75 degrees Celsius. Pfizer has developed the packaging to maintain that kind of temperature. The shipment comes with dry ice packaging which keeps the vaccine’s efficacy for 10 days. It is critical for us to pay very special attention at every stage of the shipment movement. From the moment we pick up the shipment at Brussels in Belgium until delivery. We ensure the integrity of the package from the origin to the last destination where the vaccine is to be delivered.
Are you delivering the vaccines to the dosing centre, like a hospital?
The location where the shipment needs to be delivered is at the discretion of the authorities. We deliver where they need to be delivered. But the most important thing for us is to ensure the integrity of the package. From pick up until delivery, everyone involved in the supply chain knows every detail. Such clarity in visibility helps us to have 100 percent in efficiency in getting those shipments to the final destination.
How critical is tracking and tracing for your vaccine shipments?
Every day we deliver more than 21 million packages. All packages that are in the UPS network are visible and traceable by our customers. In the case of vaccines, we go a step further to collaborate with manufacturers. We have equipped the boxes with a GPS beacon, a temperature monitor and a barcode that’s scanned upon receipt. And we have dedicated teams at our command centres in the US and in Europe continuously monitoring every vaccine shipment.
Do you have dry ice manufacturing plants in the Middle East as more quantities of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines will have to be transported in the months ahead?
We have the capability in the region to get enough dry ice to replenish whenever required.
What plans do you have to scale up your Covid vaccine distribution in the Middle East and Indian subcontinent?
UPS has been providing logistics support for eight of the ten leading vaccines in clinical trials today. We will continue leveraging our world-class network and expertise in healthcare logistics to support health ministries, customers and other local and regional partners around the world to help deliver the vaccines efficiently, securely and sustainably. We are ready to support and work with all countries to fight against the pandemic.