National Vaccination Day: Acknowledging the role of logistics for accessible immunization for all

16th March each year marks the National Vaccination Day or the Immunization Day in India. The day is observed to promote vaccination campaigns and raise awareness about the importance of vaccines in preventing infectious diseases.

Reminiscent of our recent past, when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged the world’s biggest inoculation drive in India, we take this opportunity today to talk about how the logistics sector has proved itself to be an irreplaceable component of efficient vaccine logistics. 

Back in 2021, India was not just conducting a national vaccination drive, but also provided aid to various countries. And at the center of all of it, was efficient logistics and transportation. From storage to flying them off to their destinations, the sector was working tirelessly for months – considering that all of it had to be temperature controlled. 

In addition to transportation, the logistics industry also played a role in managing the distribution networks and ensuring that the vaccines were delivered to the intended recipients in a timely manner. This involved coordinating with various stakeholders such as customs officials, airlines, and local health authorities.

Various logistics service providers, engaged in different verticals of the supply chain, contributed immensely in their own capacities. For instance, Jeena Criticare (the critical healthcare division of Jeena & Co.) engaged their services to deliver more than 100 tons of COVID-19 vaccines throughout 2021, and more than 3000 MT of COVID care equipment.

On the role played by the logistics industry in efficient transportation of vaccines, Mr. Homi Katgara (Partner, Jeena & Co.) said, “Aligned with the theme of this National Vaccination Day, we feel proud to be a crucial link in the vaccine supply chain where we ensure that everyone has access to vaccines. Vaccine shipments are time and temperature-sensitive in nature, demanding the logistics service providers to deliver them under optimum conditions and within a shorter turnaround time.”

When it comes to managing the supply chain of vaccines, the first and foremost thing is controlling the temperature at which vaccines are stored and transported. This requires specialized cold chain infrastructure which is critical to maintain the efficacy of the vaccines. 

Within a matter of a few weeks, the sector had improved the quality of its services, thereby exhibiting their commitment to the greater cause. Investments in technology and infrastructure by the sector was pivotal in seamless vaccine deliveries across all nooks and corners of the nation. 

The air cargo industry led the sector’s participation in supplying vaccines to the world and across India. Air cargo, with the least turnaround times, were leveraged to the maximum by the government and vaccine manufacturers to transport vaccines quickly, even to remote locations that were difficult to reach by road or sea. 

Air cargo was particularly important for transporting vaccines due to their limited shelf life and strict requirements of temperature-control. Temperature-controlled containers, also known as active containers, were used to maintain the efficacy of the vaccines during transit. These containers can maintain temperatures ranging from -20°C to +25°C, which is critical in ensuring that the vaccines remain effective.

India being one of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of the COVID-19 vaccines, airports here needed to have the necessary infrastructure to handle the large volumes of vaccines and the specialized temperature-controlled containers required for their transportation. Within a matter of days, special cargo handling infrastructure was developed at various major Indian airports, including specialized storage facilities, handling equipment, temperature-controlled zones and dedicated cargo bays for vaccines. 

“At Mumbai Airport, which is India’s pharma hub, an advantage for us in the distribution of the vaccine was that, we had infra in place, trained people, and exporters who were distributing pharma all across the globe. We had a process in place and brought a new process: every vaccine and every distribution of pharma was mapped. We completely went into digital format,” said Mr. Manoj Singh (SVP and Head – Cargo, Mumbai International Airport).

Specialized handling procedures for the vaccines were also developed, which included the use of trained personnel and specialized equipment to handle and transport the vaccines safely. Additionally, these major airports also developed a real-time tracking system to monitor the movement of vaccines throughout the transportation process. This helped to ensure that the vaccines were delivered to their intended recipients in a timely and efficient manner.

But apart from the air cargo sector, another important cog in the wheel was road transportation – because a machete simply doesn’t suit when you need a needle. In India’s heavily congested road network, while air cargo connected vaccine manufacturers to the farthest of domestic airports, temperature controlled road transportation ensured that even the most remote areas were provided with the vaccine. 

Coming to railways, one of the significant advantages of rail freight is its large capacity, which was used to transport large quantities of vaccines in a single shipment, making it a cost-effective and efficient solution for vaccine distribution. For this, the rail freight sector used temperature controlled reefer containers to transport vaccines, which ensured that temperatures of -20°C to +25°C were maintained. 

To conclude, the supply chain sector has been pivotal in making India’s vaccination drive a huge success and also making India a prominent humanitarian aid provider when the world was in distress. In a span of just a few months, the supply chain and logistics infrastructure of the country saw a massive transformation, the after effects of which were not just reaped during vaccine transportation, but will continue for years to come. 

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