The global freight industry is planning for an initial 2021 goal of shipping an average of 271 million ultra-cold and cold doses per month as the world expects the approval of COVID-19 vaccines (9 million doses per day). Early modelling by the global technology consulting firm, ABI Research reveals that at least 857 heat-controlled trucks will leave Pfizer and Moderna every month. These numbers would be significantly increased if AstraZeneca also receives approval. After the broad urban and suburban areas are filled, distribution and delivery will continue to expand and become more complicated.
Pfizer announced Monday that its coronavirus vaccine proved to be 90 percent effective in clinical trial. The vaccine has to be kept cold during distribution. The vaccine takes advantage of a genetic material called mRNA, which enters cells and induces proteins. The mRNA needs to be stored at minus 80 degrees Celsius or it will spoil and become useless. The vaccine could be available to high-priority populations this month, and to the general public in April, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci. The federal government doesn't seem to have a nationwide plan for distributing freezers and manufacturers have been trying to assemble a freezer supply chain that can handle the demand. Pfizer plans to ship the vaccine in containers that can hold 1,000 to 5,000 doses.
The containers have slots for dry ice that can keep the vaccines at the appropriate temperature for 10 days. There are fewer than 10 national suppliers of the freezers, and manufacturing a unit can take 10 days to 6 weeks. The freezers are likely to be too expensive for rural hospitals that are already operating at a loss.
"For success in 2021, especially after a very challenging 2020, one must understand fundamental trends early and take a view on those trends that are buoyed by hyperbole and those that are sure to be uncomfortable realities. Now is the time to double down on the right technology investment," says Stuart Carlaw, Chief Research Officer at ABI Research.
Ultra-low temperatures, up to -70 degrees Celsius ©, or -94 Fahrenheit, are required for early vaccine candidates. This is affected by a lack of adequate storage capacity for these new types of Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. The containers for storing and transporting them are not widely available and not required for common vaccines. Constant temperature control is required from the production site to the vaccine.
"The scale of technology, strategy, and operations excellence needed will require transparency, flexibility, and scale never seen, and will take herculean efforts beyond the actual vaccine development and approval," Beardslee points out.
To date, much of the attention has been on fulfillment centers and modal air power. The need to seamlessly monitor temperatures and provide warnings for any out-of-spec loads is another issue. This requires integrated applications, ample computing and sensor capabilities within, and the collaboration between various modes and possible rivals of both public and private entities.
Although transportation of goods has seen a promising rebound since the spring, pinch points continue, from driver shortages (levels back to 2018) to container shortages and carrier bankruptcies due to rising insurance costs and lower profits.