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All the aviation and logistics players are getting ready but this is only the beginning. While they have collaborated over the last six months, the emphasis on collaboration is even more than before because of the nature of the vaccine. Maintaining the temperature is one of the key aspects to preserve potency and stakeholders believe that while there will be many unseen challenges, the only way to deal with them is talking to each other to deliver the vaccine. 

The global air cargo and logistics industry is experiencing one of their biggest challenges yet and as they are addressing it head on, they are looking at every single aspect of the supply chain. The need for attention is simply because they are dealing with the urgently needed Covid-19 vaccine, that has to be maintained at specific temperatures to preserve potency till it is delivered to the patient. At the recent Global Vaccine Logistics Summit 2020 hosted by Indian Transport & Logistics News (ITLN), air cargo and logistics experts underlined the challenges and the need for collaboration to help be ready when the vaccine hits the market. 

In India, Chandrashekar Ranga, deputy drugs controller (India), CDSCO, who spoke at the summit, said that the manufacturers have allocated their manufacturing capacity for 1.5 billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. From the government perspective, he said that they have given permission in the form of a provision to the manufacturers whose vaccines are under clinical development, to produce and stockpile them. Ranga said, “We have already issued permission to a couple of these manufacturers to stockpile the vaccines. So, we can assume that vaccines are being manufactured and are kept in stock. Once the vaccines are approved, they will be rolled out.” With the manufacturers already prepared, he highlighted that one of the main concerns for the logistics industry is preserving the potency of the vaccine. Agreeing with Ranga, Vandana Aggarwal, senior economic advisor in the Ministry of Civil Aviation, said it is important to maintain the potency so now the onus is on the logistics industry to be creative and innovative in supplying the vaccine without any breakage in the supply chain. To maintain the potency of the vaccine, it is important to secure the supply chain and experts think timely collaboration is the only way to get it done. The global industry is not far behind and International Air Transport Association (IATA) is at the forefront of the fight against Coronavirus pandemic. Specific taskforce teams have been created by TIACA and AirBridgeCargo Airlines among other industry stakeholders looking to find the best possible solutions for vaccine distribution. 

AstraZeneca's production and manufacture facility (Photo: AstraZeneca.com)

Ground realities 
AirBridgeCargo Airlines (ABC Airlines), a part of the Volga-Dnepr Group, has been very busy over the last six to eight months. From delivering PPE kits to every other necessary medical equipment to help in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Recently, they have also created a Global Vaccine Taskforce, fronted by Casper Pan, head of Healthcare APAC. It is dedicated specifically to finding solutions to deal with the distribution of vaccines around the world. Yulia Celetaria, healthcare director, Volga-Dnepr Group, informs that with the help of the taskforce they are working in four main directions - internal expertise and knowledge of vaccine distribution and development, packaging solutions, transportation temperatures and trade lanes. With vaccine distribution taking top priority, she highlights that during discussions, one of the main concerns by pharmaceutical companies who are not into Covid-19 vaccine production is container allotment. Celetaria says, “They want to know if there will be enough containers to accommodate their main cargo which is being transported since ages or will the container providers use the opportunistic approach and provide them primarily to the vaccine and the rest will only get the leftovers.” However, she adds that all the providers have ensured the cargo carrier that such a situation wouldn’t arise and the containers will be distributed as equally as possible.

This is an indication that while there is a rising demand for freight capacities, there is an equal demand for containers because while Covid-19 vaccines will take the major share, there are others, who do not want to be deprived of their usual capacities. One of the better solutions for maximum container usage is a faster turnaround time and while it is possible at bigger airports, it will be a challenge at the smaller ones, which cannot be ignored and Celetaria with her team are already on it. Further, she informs that because the vaccines will have to be delivered to areas with smaller airports, they have been discussing how the containers can be returned in a timely manner. A similar thought resonates with Andreas Seitz, managing director, DoKaSch Temperature Solutions, and Marrie Groenveld, chief commercial officer, SkyCell containers. Seitz says they are currently working on the shortest possible turnaround time for containers instead of increasing their number, because the demand is still not known. Groenveld, on the other hand believes that while they have increased their production, the capacity can only be determined based on how many turns the container can make. 

SkyCell and AFKLMP Cargo have signed an agreement to expand access to SkyCell’s hybrid containers

The Volga-Dnepr Group having been one of the cargo carriers to be delivering vaccine supporting commodities such as the vials with specific glass, and even the big machinery like vial production machines, they have seen a lot of demand for it. The equipment has also been traveling from Europe into the USA and also from China into Russia, Middle East, Europe, which are ABC Airlines’ major trade lanes. Celetaria says that a shortage of this equipment could actually be one of the hurdles. She says, “The lack of the vials, syringes, needles and all supportive commodities might become a bottleneck and we also need to make sure we are supporting here with our freighters.” 

Work backwards in the supply chain 
Andrea Gruber, head, Special Cargo, IATA, says since there are many uncertainties, the success will depend on comprehensive and early planning, close and ongoing communication, however, the most important aspect is implementation. “There is a need for commitment to implementation because that is very important as well. It is good to collaborate, but implementing is even more so important,” says Gruber. She goes on to add that one of the biggest challenges is the scale up of the exceptional volumes of vaccines that will have to be handled and transported, while again, ensuring vaccine shipments and integrity. It is for the very same reason that through the collaborative communication effort and assisting the industry’s preparedness, IATA has prepared a guidance document to provide accurate and rapid information to minimise the number of potential distribution scenarios, and it will be released soon. 

Turkish Cargo helped transport seven containers with Covid-19 vaccines from Beijing to Sao Paulo

However, Gruber points out that while looking at collaboration in the supply chain from procurement, distribution and normal flow, there may be another possible solution to address challenges. She says, “Looking backwards in the logistics chain can be a solution in terms of communication to release some of the bottlenecks, while outlining, and capabilities of the infrastructure. It simply means that understanding from the government, local authorities and distribution centre as to what speed they can actually ensure the local distribution, what are the warehouse storing capabilities at destination, while ensuring the safety and security of the product.” Gruber goes on to add that it would also help if the centres worked in a phased approach and communicated backwards to understand the capacities and capabilities at the destination. 

Methodology and collaboration 
Collaboration has been one of the central themes in preparation for the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines but for it to exist, Nicola Caristo, airline partner manager, SkyCell and secretary general, Cool Chain Association, believes there is also a need for a methodology to help connect the dots. He highlights that CCA is harmonizing to help airports, stakeholders and even the producers and all the players involved to collaborate correctly and at the same time it's important to be practical. “We have everything now, we got the tools, we got the risk assessment, we got the visibility on some lanes, we really have to be practical and to go with the project and manage the distribution of the vaccine,” emphasises Caristo. 

Building on Gerber’s idea, Max Philipp Conrady, senior vice president cargo, Fraport AG, says all the stakeholders have to definitely work hand in hand to secure the supply chain but it is necessary to go beyond that because collaboration shouldn’t only be vertical and should also be horizontal, and there is also need for working groups to carry it out. He says, “They (stakeholders) have to not only be connected and collaborating on a vertical level alongside the supply chain but on a horizontal level as well. So, between the cargo handlers, cargo airline representatives as well as the ground handlers. Collaboration does not only mean from hand to hand from next to next step in the supply chain, you have to work in between the own group and then the very same step within the supply chain.”

Conrady’s need for horizontal collaboration may just be the solution for smaller airports, who have logistical challenges, especially with lower capacities and lesser experience while dealing with pharmaceutical cargo, which simply gives rise to the need for collaboration. Celetaria, who emphasises the need for collaboration says, “We all need to speak to each other because we do understand that we will be flying from a very sophisticated airport with huge pharmaceutical centres and huge expertise to very old simple airports with very low capacities with no experience and no expertise. So, we need to find this balance on how we do we make sure that we are not spoiling the vaccine somewhere in between in the transportation chain. We don't only need airlines, we need freight forwarders to talk to us or to each other too.”

Just like many other taskforces, Project Sunrays, a joint effort between TIACA and Pharma.Aero, is aptly named to deal with the current Covid-19 crisis. Emir Pineda, member of The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), board of directors and Co-Lead says its goal is to simply provide guidelines and the proper handling and storage of the Covid-19 vaccines when it becomes available. He says, “The formula is quite simple. It takes people, leadership, management to meet the challenges of this crisis to come together. It also takes infrastructure and standards such as CEIV or GDP. It's also going to take packaging to maintain the integrity of the product.” Emir adds that dry ice is also a key factor that will help meet the temperature requirements of the ultra cold vaccines and finally, collaboration. “It's going to take us working together with a common goal. And that common goal is really saving people's lives,” he concludes. 

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