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Logistics providers gear up to ensure smooth supply of COVID-19 vaccines

It is assumed that most of India’s vaccine exports will be to Africa, Latin America and Asian countries

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Logistics providers are gearing up to provide the required infrastructure to maintain vaccine integrity. The logistics industry is preparing not only for India’s requirements but also for global vaccine shipments.

It is reported that manufacturers of vials, syringes and other required material suppliers of COVID -19 vaccines are also ramping up their capabilities. However, to ensure continuity of vaccine supply till the last mile, there is a dire need for a robust supply chain system. Therefore, logistic providers are enhancing their capabilities and making arrangements for an unbroken cold chain system required for the shipping of the vaccines. 

According to an industry observer, Hyderabad is going to play an integral role in accelerating the supply of COVID vaccines as several pharma companies have an active presence in that geography and are equipped with robust manufacturing technology and capacity to manufacture millions of doses as per the best in class industry practices.

Going by its records, the GMR Hyderabad Air Cargo (GMAC) has capabilities to provide an end-to-end unbroken cool-chain system for pharma and vaccine shipments. It is already handling various traditional vaccine shipments from its Pharma Zone, which is well equipped in providing seamless processing of critical vaccines for global exports and imports.  

The GHAC terminal has a large-sized dual view tunnel X-ray Screening Machine to maintain the integrity of vaccines cool containers while screening, and it is gearing up to handle export and import of COVID-19 vaccines and related items.

SGK Kishore, ED – South Chief Innovation officer, GMR Group said, “The GMR Hyderabad Air Cargo has a well-established standard operating procedure (SOP) in place for acceptance, screening and handling of vaccines as per required temperature conditions. The Pharma zone of the terminal is a World Health Organization – Good Storage and Distribution Practices (WHO-GSDP) certified facility. As the vaccines are highly sensitive shipments, GHAC will leverage its efficiency in handling pharma from the last 12 years of operations to maintain an unbroken cool- chain. The terminal offers one of India’s largest fleet of the modern temp-controlled cool containers viz. Envirotainer, VaQtec, etc. Recently, we launched Cool Dolly- a mobile refrigeration unit for airside transportation of temperature-sensitive pharma and vaccine shipments.”

He elaborated, “Cool zones/containers have temperature data loggers and humidity sensors to ensure better monitoring and control while handling sensitive vaccine shipments. We are in talks with various stakeholders towards meeting specific requirements of export and import of COVID-19 vaccines, including the challenge of having a multiple range of cold and ultra-cold minus temperatures. For quick mechanised handling of vaccine boxes and to avoid any breakage/leakage of shipments, dock levelers are in place at the truck dock area for multiple vehicle compatibility. The entire pharma zone is also equipped with temperature and humidity sensors with alarm alerts along with CCTV surveillance to check any temperature excursion in real-time. Temperature recording and monitoring are being done with data loggers in exclusive cold storage for temperature-sensitive cargo like vaccines/pharma.”

Besides, the GMR Hyderabad Air Cargo is also in the process of expanding specific landside and airside facilities to further handle the spurt in pharma and vaccine shipments from Hyderabad. Its plans are in place to increase the storage capacity for various vaccine types and related accessories and supplies. The GHAC is also working with cool container providers for maintaining large stocks at its station. It is upgrading the current capacity of cool containers storage and charging locations to handle the surge in Cool Containers movement as well.

As per insights shared by the GHAC, most of India’s vaccine export will be to Africa, Latin America and Asian destinations. Ingredients may be obtained from Europe and a few other regions. Hyderabad is all set to emerge as a major port once the key manufacturers succeed with the various human trials which are in progress.

 “We are equipped to handle critical processes like – acceptance, weighing, customs examination, screening, palletisation and transportation to aircraft also under temperature-controlled conditions. GHAC is working in sync with freight forwarders and trade members to improve efficiency to handle more volumes with faster turnaround. It is also undertaking the expansion of the truck dock and pharma zone to increase its handling capacity for temperature-sensitive pharma and vaccine shipments. This upgrade will also reduce the cargo acceptance and processing time and enhance operational efficiencies,” informed Kishore.

Commenting on DHL’s preparedness, R S Subramanian, Senior VP and MD, DHL Express India said, “We have established an internal task force earlier this year to look at where we would need to further beef up our capabilities when the actual vaccines are approved for distribution and are working closely with our customers and suppliers to ensure we can cope with the rollout. We have also built a solid foundation with a 9000-strong community of life sciences and healthcare (LSH) specialists, 118 competence centres in airports and ports globally for the specialised handling of LSH products, 160+ Good Distribution Practice (GDP)-qualified warehouses, 15+ Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)-certified sites and 135+ medical express sites.”

He continued, “The task at hand has an unprecedented scale and needs all players involved – private as well as government to work together to play their relevant roles, thereby achieving the desired outcome. We are in discussions with several of our stakeholders on their supply chain needs and are committed to ensuring that the vaccines reach as many people as possible.”

Ketan Kulkarni, CMO and Head – Business Development, Blue Dart, commented, “We are already working with pharma/life science companies in their effort to tackle COVID-19 in the transportation of testing kits etc. We have eight pharma-grade conditioning rooms at eight strategic locations like Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune, Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore. These rooms are at close proximity to our Blue Dart Airport Stations, which decreases our turnaround time and aid in a speedy delivery. Blue Dart already has the operational experience and specialised infrastructure required for handling bio-medical shipments. We understand the criticality of the shipment and have specialised life science solutions experts with us. We have done our background work in terms of the capacity requirements- materials for packaging, availability of data loggers, insulated shippers, walk-in cold room, coolant, network reach, manpower preparedness, technology investment to handle requirements in this direction.”

While elaborating the offering, Kulkarni said, “We use both single-use packaging (which provides temp stability of 48-72 hours) and multi-use boxes which have temperature stability of 96 hours. Being a part of the DPDHL Group, we have access to captive cold chain trucks with varying capacities. We can inject many more as required into the system.”

Logistics4Pharma, another player in this industry, doesn’t have specific plans for the Indian market, because in India they collaborate with logistics agents who work for them. However, the company is streamlining their functioning, informed Kees Schmidt, Head of Operations, Logistics4Pharma. He said, “We are eliminating non-essential business and focusing on core pharma logistics services. We are also optimising every space in the warehouse for increased capacity, building up an inventory of validated cold-chain packaging solutions and also training for employees and planning for extra work hours.”

All stakeholders of the logistics industry are ramping up their capabilities to meet the demand required to ensure uninterrupted supply of COVID-19 vaccines. However, the next few months will decide whether these efforts will suffice in providing end-to-end solutions or not. 

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