The global vaccination programme against COVID-19 using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has begun. If every person worldwide is to be vaccinated with the two-dose plan, that means 15 billion doses will have to be distributed to even the most remote locations.
This creates some incredible logistical challenges for developed nations but looks practically impossible for Latin America.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is particularly problematic for logistics as it must be stored at -70 °C. Distributing and transporting this vaccine while maintaining a cold supply chain to a sparsely populated area with poor communication, like much of Latin America, will be hard.
The vaccine will arrive in country by air in specially designed dry-ice packs, each holding up to 5,000 doses. The vaccine can then be stored in -70 °C freezers for up to six months. If left in the dry ice packs, the vaccine has up to ten days to reach a vaccination centre where it can be stored in a regular fridge for up to five days.
Connectivity is one challenge, explains an executive at a cargo airline in Mexico, “The vaccines will arrive to Latin America by air. The biggest challenge for the cargo airlines is whether they can cover the operational costs of vaccine delivery – the urgency for distributing medical supplies significantly increases the costs for the airlines.”
“The biggest challenge for the cargo airlines is whether they can cover the operational costs of vaccine delivery.”
Executive, cargo airline, Mexico
A commercial manager for LATAM Cargo said, “It will take more planes than the market has to get vaccines to all of the Americas. We, as a company, are going to dedicate all the supply (fleet) that we can, although we are already operating at 100% capacity and we are not yet transporting the vaccine. We are considering putting aside markets that are not strategic and that do not represent as many revenues to be able to use those planes to transport the vaccine.”
“It will take more planes than the market has to get vaccines to all of the Americas.”
Commercial manager, LATAM Cargo
Another challenge is that customs procedures need to be expedited, especially as the vaccine is delicate and this can only be done by collaboration between governments.
The supply chain is responding to these challenges though: UPS, FedEx and DHL have invested millions of dollars in building new facilities at their distribution centres to enable them to store thousands of doses.
Partnerships are also being established with many of the parts of the logistics chain, including carriers, trucking companies, container providers, airports, freight / logistics partners, pharmaceutical companies, and health-related institutes and authorities.
Where there is a will, there is a way, but some of the other vaccine candidates look like a better fit for Latin America.