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India remains a key focus for UPS Healthcare

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Having surpassed the 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines delivery milestone in December, Daniel Gagnon, Vice President, Marketing Execution, UPS Healthcare explains to Viveka Roychowdhury how UPS will continue to support developing countries’ overall healthcare infrastructure, ensuring they are better equipped to manage biologically derived drug and therapies for decades to come

UPS delivered a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses in December. How has the company ensured safe and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, given that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the gaps in the pharma/vaccine cold chain ecosystem of many countries, India included? While donations of deep freezers might plug some gaps in the short term, what is the longer term solution? 

Global success for vaccine deliveries is about collaborations and mobilising the right partnerships. For vaccine deliveries our focus continues to be working closely with key stakeholders and leveraging our global smart logistics network to ensure the integrity of the package.

The last two years shine a light on the power of UPS Healthcare’s- global network and capabilities. We continue to build upon this network to serve the complex needs of pharmaceutical products, medical devices, drugs that are time sensitive, sterile and have specific temperature-controlled transportation requirements. Our expertise in healthcare logistics is further strengthened with Marken, a wholly owned subsidiary of UPS Healthcare that supports the clinical trial sector and more.

The COVID-19 vaccine is the one of the most fragile, biologically derived sterile products and requires a specific temperature controlled cold chain network. We worked together with the manufacturers, ministries, governments, supply chain vendors, to name a few, to support sensitive vaccine transportation requirements. Working side by side with the manufacturers, we devised plans and the right solutions that enabled us to deliver the vaccines to the right place, at the right time and at the right temperature. It was a collaborative effort, throughout the supply chain, that made it one of the most efficient logistics operations.

Technology played a huge role to ensure safe and equitable distribution of one billion vaccines, just one year after the first vaccine was delivered by UPS. We leveraged our one-of-kind  UPS Premier tracking technologies, industry-leading cold chain solutions, and an expansive, sophisticated, global network providing UPS Healthcare services to customers and communities around the world. It allowed us to achieve 99.9 per cent on-time delivery to more than 110 countries to support the ongoing fight against the global pandemic.

The UPS Foundation connected with partners such as GAVI, World Food Program, and other agencies like the Africa CDC, PAHO, Asian Development Bank to share UPS capabilities, freezer farms, dry ice capabilities, and offer assistance for vaccine distribution. The UPS Foundation and UPS Healthcare supported equitable delivery programme and sustainable global supply chain of COVID-19 vaccines. We partnered with GAVI and other organisations to train and manage ultra-cold vaccine movement in COVAX nations, supporting COVID relief and healthcare infrastructure moving forward. We also have embedded logistics experts into countries like Indonesia and Malawi to fully manage logistics of vaccine distribution. Our vaccine equity initiative has supported 18 countries across five continents:

  • More than 330,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses were delivered via drone to rural clinics in Ghana in partnership with The UPS Foundation, GAVI and Zipline
  • In 2020, UPS committed more than $22M to equitable vaccine delivery and supported delivery of 20 million COVID-19 vaccines across five continents in countries of greatest need.
  • In India, through our partners, the Concern India Foundation, we’ve distributed hand-sanitisers, face-shields and gloves to the Mumbai and Pune city Police
  • In December, The UPS Foundation provided delivery for 1 million COVID-19 vaccines in Nigeria.
  • UPS has donated more than 230 ultra-cold freezers and cold-chain portable packaging to developing countries and underserved populations.
  • In July, The UPS Foundation delivered our first of batch of what will be a total of 13.8 million COVID-19 vaccines into Indonesia. This is The UPS Foundation’s largest in-kind gift to advance equitable vaccine distribution.

In addition to the freezer donations, our teams are providing governments and health departments in developing countries with the necessary training to support long-term vaccine distribution. Additionally, this training will better support the countries overall healthcare infrastructure, ensuring they are better equipped to manage biologically derived drugs and therapies for decades to come.

What kind of capabilities and technologies did UPS leverage for the delivery of vaccines?

UPS Premier tracking technology was a key one for us for delivering vaccines.

Certain vaccines such as Pfizer, have a very specific temperature requirement of being maintained at -70 degrees Celsius. It requires dry ice packaging which maintains the vaccine’s temperature for 10 days. UPS has invested in dry ice manufacturing capacity. We produce over 24,000 pounds of dry ice per day in our Louisville, Kentucky facility and we can ship boxes containing dry ice to dosing locations, a day after any vaccine requiring cold chain support arrives.

Also, package visibility is extremely important. In the case of vaccines, we go a step further to collaborate with manufacturers. We have equipped the packaging boxes with a GPS beacon, a temperature monitor and a barcode that is scanned upon receipt. UPS Healthcare’s 24/7 Command Center support is dedicated to predicting and managing the global vaccine movement to ensure efficacy and on-time delivery (avoiding extreme weather, etc.).

For vaccines that need to maintain lower temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius (which is frozen), time sensitivity and temperature monitoring will be extremely important.

UPS has coordinated the distribution of millions of vaccines in the Indian subcontinent, Middle East, and Africa (ISMEA) by leveraging its smart global logistics network. On December 16, 2020, UPS delivered the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines outside of the US from Pfizer’s facilities in Belgium through Cologne, to Saudi Arabia.

All of this underscores our commitment to deliver what matters and has helped us surpass the one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses delivery mark with near-perfect on-time accuracy.

As many companies would like to reduce their carbon footprint, are UPS cold chain packaging solutions for the healthcare sector ecologically sustainable?

UPS Healthcare has continued to develop new capabilities in cold chain logistics. Driven by our customer first strategy, we provide even higher performance, greater cost efficiencies, and more sustainable shipping options.

Our newest cold chain and packaging center in Louisville, Kentucky, named the ‘Cold Chain Packaging Center of Excellence,’ is the company’s first US-based logistics facility to offer reusable cold chain packaging options for customers, utilising the entire life cycle of temperature-controlled packages and contributing to a circular economy.

The reusable packaging cuts down on single-use waste, creates more sustainable options and drives significant cost savings for our customers.

How large a market is India for UPS from a healthcare segment point of view? Is price point an issue?

In the months to come, we will see India (and The Serum Institute) evolve into an epicentre for vaccine manufacturing that will be key to supporting currently under vaccinated populations.

India remains a key focus for UPS Healthcare due to our expertise in handling the movement of time-and-temperature sensitive biologics.

We will continue leveraging our smart global logistics network and expertise in healthcare logistics to support health ministries, customers and other local and regional partners around the world to help deliver the vaccines efficiently, securely and sustainably. We are ready to support and work with all countries in our collective fight against the pandemic.

Since India is a huge exporter of medicines, vaccines etc., what is UPS’ share of this business? What is the target growth for this market share? And strategies to achieve this?

UPS Healthcare is investing into cold chain in locations where we believe pharmaceutical products will be manufactured and distributed – Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Singapore, South Korea, Puerto Rico, parts of Latin America. We are focussing our new capacity and new capital investments in countries where we believe drugs and medical devices will be manufactured.

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