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China Working Out Logistics for Global Distribution of COVID Vaccine

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EIRNS—Chinese vaccine companies are working through how to get their COVID-19 vaccines distributed to less-developed countries around the world as soon as they are available—hopefully by mid-December. A Nov. 3 report in China’s Global Times poses some of the huge physical economic challenges involved. The report is a reminder that getting the vaccines needed to end the pandemic to the poorer countries can only be accomplished if leading industrial nations—the United States, China, Russia, Japan, Germany, etc.—cooperate in a crash program to build the physical and medical infrastructure required for distribution, as part of a world health system. Cooperation between President Donald Trump’s Warp Speed project and China’s efforts would be particularly important.

Glyn Hughes, head of cargo for the International Air Transport Association, told Global Times that “COVID-19 vaccine distribution will be unlike any previous logistical challenge. It will need to reach nearly 200 countries in a relatively short time frame and will need to move in a safe and secure manner to ensure full compliance with cool chain temperature requirements.” According to a DHL international courier service report cited by Global Times, meeting global COVID-19 vaccine needs will require up to 200,000 pallet shipments and 15 million deliveries in cooling boxes, as well as 15,000 flights across supply chain set-ups.

Vaccines are delicate. The WHO estimates that up to 50% of all vaccines may be wasted globally every year due to temperature control, logistics and shipment-related issues, Global Times pointed out. The three major Chinese companies working on COVID-19 vaccines therefore are assuming that they will have to arrange for the transportation and logistics of getting vaccines into many nations in Southeast Asia, Africa and Ibero-America asking to receive their vaccines.

The cold-chain requirement is a huge challenge. As Hughes put it: “The air cargo supply chain is complex in normal conditions. When you then include the additional challenges of cool chain requirements associated with least developed countries, that complexity is magnified.... Airport infrastructure is one area that will require close scrutiny to ensure that vaccines are flown into appropriate facilities. In-country supply chains will also need to be upgraded in many developing nations to ensure the temperature integrity is maintained throughout the journey from production to injection.”

Frozen vaccine packages are usually effective for five days, Chongqing Zhifei Biological Products, which manufactures vaccines and biological products, told the Global Times. A transnational shipment might take at least two or three days from packing to landing, but the difficulties of transit within countries may mean it may take longer, posing a bigger challenge for temperature-monitoring systems and storage space.

Dubai demonstrates the kind of global mobilization underway. Emirates SkyCargo is working at top speed to establish the world’s first dedicated airside cargo hub for the vaccine. Emirates SkyCentral DWC reported to Global Times that it “has more than 4,000 square meters set aside for temperature-controlled, GDP-certified dedicated pharmaceutical storage, allowing for large-scale storage and distribution of the potential COVID-19 vaccines. Overall, it is estimated that the facility can hold around 10 million vials of vaccine at a range of 2-8°C temperature at any one point of time.”