The survey results of TIACA and Pharma.Aero’s joint “Sunrays” Project which looked at the air cargo industry’s readiness for the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine transport challenge, were very sobering: 72% of the 181 stakeholders across the pharma logistics supply chain interviewed felt unprepared with 1 in 5 feeling very unprepared. On 14OCT20, the two associations called for “an urgent industry collaboration to address [this] concerning lack of readiness for COVID-19 vaccines logistics.”
"We as an industry are as strong as our weakest link. To move the needle on industry readiness, we need to ensure everyone is engaged and informed. Only with a strong and transparent dialogue
between pharmaceutical and air cargo sectors, governments, non-governmental organizations, and healthcare institutions can we overcome these challenges. The sooner, the better," Emir Pineda,
Member of TIACA's Board of Directors and co-lead of the August-launched Sunrays project, clearly spelled out the situation.
Dedicated teams are the way forward
The positive news is that most of those airlines, freight forwarders, ground handlers, airport operators, and solution providers interviewed have already begun preparing for the challenge of handling, storing, transporting, and delivering the future COVID-19 vaccines. Task forces or dedicated teams have been set up within certain locations or companies, that are working on improving current capabilities, discussing with partners, and planning in anticipation. A difficult task with so many questions still open when it comes to the as-yet unknown COVID-19 vaccines.
The Sunrays project team has proposed four “Areas of priority” in the ramp up and “focus on industry collaboration between pharma and air cargo sectors […] to ensure no country is left behind” in the global distribution of the vaccines.”
“Don’t leave GHAs and airports behind!” – Sunrays survey presentation
The recent survey showed clear discrepancies between the different stakeholders when it came to feeling prepared, with Ground Handlers and Airports feeling least prepared for the vaccine logistics challenge. The project’s message, therefore, is to ensure that all parties involved in the supply chain are included in discussions – not just airlines, forwarders and solution providers, but also airports and ground handling agents. “Strengthening industry collaboration” is the first area of priority listed in the press release, also urging “vaccines manufacturers to involve all their air cargo logistics providers as early as possible.”
Mapping the current situation.
“Ramping-up air cargo capabilities” is the second area of priority, wherein all supply chain involved companies should map their current capabilities from infrastructure to staff skills, cold storage facilities, dry ice, and other related requirements. The information should be shared with the other stakeholders, and preparations should be made to secure necessary infrastructure improvements, materials, or upskilling.
Go digital and ensure transparency
The third area of priority is concerned with maximizing control and transparency of the sensitive shipments: “Improving visibility”. This can be achieved through the use of tracking and monitoring devices which can deliver (near to) real-time status updates along the chain, however one hurdle requiring an urgent solution, is “the approval process for their safe use in flight”: The Sunrays project team urges this approval process to be concluded as quickly as possible.
Accompanying the tracking and monitoring devices, is the implementation of digital solutions, and again the request that stakeholders share the relevant information using digital data sharing platforms.
Constructive collaboration with authorities
Whilst vaccine manufacturers, forwarders, airlines, airport, solution providers and ground handlers can work together to establish a smooth supply chain, a more complex and highly necessary step is that of “Removing barriers” that may currently be in place, imposed by governments, customs authorities, or border agencies. Clear requirements need to be tabled to ensure that the vaccine transports can be carried out easily and quickly.
The expertise of “international organizations, NGOs, and donors should support cool chain capacity building efforts in least developed countries to ensure no one is left behind in the upcoming global immunization campaign.”
Early days, but how much time is there?
"We are still at early stages of industry preparation for the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines and there are still a lot of unknowns. Delivering COVID-19 vaccines is a life-saving mission which will need a combination of people, infrastructure, standards, packaging solutions and collaboration. Getting the equation right requires us to work together now," Nathan De Valck, Chairman of Pharma.Aero's Board of Directors and member of the Sunrays project concluded.
The industry is working to an unknown, moving deadline, as the process will need by the time the final vaccine is known – this could be at any point in the next few months. The time to start collaborating and preparing, if not already begun, is now.
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