9 December 2020

Yahoo! Finance: Global supply chain tested as COVID-19 vaccines roll out

As a global logistics provider, Jonathan Savoir has grown accustomed to the holiday rush.

His Singapore-based company Quincus develops software that enables delivery companies like DHL to track their packages around the world, from Southeast Asia to the U.S., Europe to the Middle East. In November alone, he saw a 30 percent bump in shipments.

This month, he faces the ultimate holiday challenge — getting the coronavirus vaccine safely from the manufacturing floor to hospitals and nursing homes across the globe, as Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) begin the most consequential deliveries in recent medical history.

“Supply chains are most often, fairly straightforward. You’re getting something from A to B with a couple of hubs in between. But [vaccine distribution] is increasingly complex,” Savoir said. “When you have to freeze things at minus 70, it’s hard to do because the assets are not available, the warehouses are not available, the aircrafts need to be especially fitted.”

The demand is not entirely unprecedented. Cold food chain systems already exist for seafood and ice cream, for example, but the sheer volume to meet the demand of the global distribution of vaccines is where the challenge lies.

For Savoir, the preparation entails developing a system that allows vaccine manufacturers, government agencies, and logistics providers to track every delivery exchange along the way, to ensure that nothing is lost. Pfizer has said the FAA recently approved GPS tracking, which was previously viewed as a security concern, in order to make real-time temperature monitoring possible.

Savoir has spent the last few months building out a digital footprint, for the entire supply chain, an effort that has proven to be a high hurdle, particularly for smaller logistics providers brought in the global distribution network.

“When you look at logistics companies themselves they’re very often not technologically advanced. They don’t have any really advanced track and trace capabilities, let alone optimization capabilities,” he said. “Now that awareness has really transformed … mainly because governments as well as health-care companies are imposing these kinds of requirements on logistics companies saying, I want to know exactly where my shipment is rather than just having a status of ‘somewhere in process,” he said.

Savoir’s challenges represent the complexity and scope of a vaccine distribution unlike any other. As Pfizer and Moderna lead a worldwide race to inoculate the most vulnerable patients, every corner of the global supply chain is gearing up to ensure a fast and safe delivery.

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