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Coronavirus vaccine distribution one of greatest logistics challenges ever seen

DHL Supply Chain playing a key role in distributing doses across the globe

(Image: DHL Supply Chain)

After over a year of pandemic-related restrictions across the globe, the coronavirus vaccine is top of mind for just about everyone. This is especially true for the people working tirelessly to transport vaccine doses safely from the manufacturers to the end consumers. 

“The vaccine distribution is going to go down as one of the greatest logistics operations ever seen. It is potentially the largest operation since World War II,” said Jim Monkmeyer, president, Transportation, DHL Supply Chain North America. “There is a lot of urgency with this distribution because there are lives hanging in the balance. It is exciting and humbling to be a part of distributing this lifesaving vaccine.” 

Vaccine distribution is an inherently complex process, requiring constant temperature monitoring and adherence to strict shipping standards. The process is further complicated by this specific vaccine’s short shelf life and regulations varying from state to state. 

Two of the now three COVID-19 vaccines currently approved to be administered in the U.S. must be stored at extremely cold temperatures to remain viable. This is not a problem during transport due to the availability of dry ice, according to Monkmeyer. This requirement does, however, necessitate a seamless drop-off protocol once vaccine doses arrive at their final destination. Receivers must be poised and ready to handle deliveries, and logistics providers must be ready to track and report any issues that arise during this phase of the process. 

DHL Supply Chain is leveraging a Control Tower solution to support the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines within North America and internationally. The company is providing customized technology and a dedicated team of experts to perform key logistics functions around-the-clock and increase visibility of the supply chain from the moment when orders are received through to the final delivery. With shipments underway, DHL Supply Chain is providing support in planning and allocating orders to the major parcel carriers charged with delivering the first waves of vaccine doses in the U.S. 

The company has experts in transportation planning, operations engineering, carrier management, customer service and life sciences. This team operates out of DHL Supply Chain’s Life Science Transportation Center of Excellence in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The team inside the control tower works to track performance, identify areas of improvement and manage exceptions throughout the entire life of each shipment.

DHL Supply Chain has also customized its transportation management system (TMS) to accommodate the extremely detailed requirements of the distribution process. Vaccine manufacturers are given real-time visibility, allowing them to track the location and status of each shipment throughout the entire journey. 

“Every single one of these doses is being carefully tracked,” Monkmeyer said. 

DHL’s unparalleled scale also makes it well-positioned to take the lead on distribution around the globe in the coming months. The company has control towers on all six major continents and a strong presence in 220 countries. DHL also employs more than 9,000 certified life sciences and health care specialists and has 140 facilities around the globe equipped to handle the vaccine, according to Monkmeyer. 

“Global distribution is going to be more complex, but we know we are well-suited for the challenge,” Monkmeyer said. “We are making history here.”

Ashley Coker

Ashley is interested in everything that moves, especially trucks and planes. She covers air cargo, trucking and sponsored content. She studied journalism at Middle Tennessee State University and worked as an editor and reporter at two daily newspapers before joining FreightWaves. Ashley spends her free time at the dog park with her beagle, Ruth, or scouring the internet for last minute flight deals.