As we face an impending logistical nightmare with the supply of an estimated 15.6 billion doses of COVID vaccines , world’s pharmaceutical supply chains have never been placed under the scanner like they are right now. The COVID-19 vaccine transport has rightly been dubbed the largest global logistic challenge ever undertaken. Mass transporting a highly critical commodity, ensuring mass mobility in downstream distribution all the while maintaining a delicate environment throughout the supply chain is going to be a herculean task.
The two clinically trailed vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer need storage temperatures of -20°C and -70°C respectively . While there are existing cold supply chains being used for the transport of several vaccines, the transport of the COVID-19 vaccines offer a different logistical challenge. The cold supply chains that are currently in place are not adept at handling temperature sensitive mRNA vaccines at such a scale. The COVID-19 vaccines have been created using a new approach using messenger RNA(mRNA) to unlock the body’s immune defenses. mRNAs are easily broken down by enzymes and if not placed in frozen temperatures, are vulnerable to degradation. Any fluctuations or inaccuracy in maintaining temperature in the supply chain including transport and warehousing could possibly destroy the vaccine’s potency. Given the scale of the operation, the situation is only exacerbated by the fact that billions of small vials which are frail and susceptible to breakage need to be transported.
So far, air freight has been proposed as being the most practical option for transporting the vaccines. It has high number of established connectivity routes and is also the most convenient option to maintain the delicate environment the vaccines require. However, the feasibility of air transport has been questioned. In terms of transport modality, the International Air Transport Association estimates that 8,000 full 747 flights will be required to transport a dose of vaccine for 7.8 billion people . Similarly, in terms of maintaining the ambient temperature for the vaccine, the suggested idea is through the use of dry ice that can maintain temperature up to -70°C. However, when dry ice sublimates, it turns into CO2. So unless it is a short haul flight, packing the airplane with dry ice will put the airline crew at a high risk.
Another issue with air transport is the cost incurred. The average cost to rent a Boeing 747 is USD 28,150 per hour  .In layman calculations; the transport of one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine via air transport for the entire world population will cost USD 22.5 million dollars per hour! Pfizer Nanotech’s vaccine that requires 2 doses is estimated to cost around USD 20 per dose in the USA .Factoring in in the transport cost into this price and the fact that 2 doses are required per individual, the vaccine will be too expensive for most people in the developing world. Nearly half the world population lives on less than USD 5.50 a day. 
The COVID-19 pandemic has bought to our attention several kinks in the global supply chain. The distribution of the personal protective equipment (PPE) laid bare many issues, such as low product-quality, complex customs processes, lack of transparency in inventory levels, and stretched transport services.  Most governments have looked to streamline sourcing and procurement wherein they have worked on reducing regulations, applying purchase guarantees and offering incentives to mass produce critical medical supplies. However, there are still pain points in the supply chain that governments have not been able to solve such as demand forecasting, warehouse optimization, streamlining purchase and procurement and maintaining product quality.In this setting, the application of Analytics can play a huge role in ameliorating these kinks in the supply chain. Various approaches can be applied to the different strategic points along the supply chain, using analytics to streamline the processes:
- Demand identification – Through the identification of hot spots, having systems in place to monitor infection numbers, Forecasting Models can be developed through which demand can be predicted on the basis of infection rates. Data Analytics can also aid in maintaining transparency in inventory levels as well as inventory forecasting. Hence, reporting and data analytic capabilities can be used in coordinating demand identification and consolidating demand data.
- Sourcing – Subpar product quality in supplies has been the result of a fragmented supply and an unclear network of contract manufacturers. Maintaining a centralized system with supplier and contract manufactures and ensuring quality checks can be implemented to resolve this issue. Based on the demand/forecast models, supply lists based on specific criteria for both product suppliers and logistic providers can be created.
- Procurement – The issue plaguing the PPE procurement process has been the high number of regulations overseeing the import and export of medicinal supplies. The way to streamline this problem would be by shifting all regulatory approvals online and regulating these on the basis of the demand surge. Pre-negotiated purchase orders, prices and secured volumes for safety stocks would aid in improving supply chain reliability and also control cost volatility at a time of crisis.
- Allocation – Through analytics, real time allocation of inventory levels can be done. This can help maintain the imbalance of demand and supply, if it arises. Demand forecasting can also help in selecting a logistic partner in advance. For countries with multi-leveled governance such as the federal system we have in Nepal, it is important to establish a collaboration model and emergency allocation principle across the various levels of the government.
- Inbound logistics and distribution – Using predictive modeling, the process of allocation and distribution can be streamlined greatly. Estimation of Time of Arrival (ToA) has been successfully employed by logistic companies like Amazon and DHL through big data predictive modeling. A similar concept can be employed in estimating ToA for critical medical supplies to maintain inventory levels and supply chains.
Analytics/Data Analytics is the science of analyzing raw data in order to make conclusions about that information. This information can then be used to optimize processes to increase the overall efficiency of a business or system .
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