Over 60,000 reefer containers to be required for vaccine distribution

While all eyes are set on air cargo for the global distribution of the much-awaited COVID vaccine, there is going to be huge demand for marine reefer containers to transport the vaccine.

As per estimates, over 60,000 reefer containers would be required for distribution of the vaccine over a period of two to three years. At present, reefer containers are used to transport pharma products and perishables.

As of now, there is no clarity on whether a significant number of the existing reefer containers will be diverted to distribute the vaccine or new reefer containers will enter the market to meet the likely surge in demand.

The initial indicated production locations of the vaccine will be India, China, France, UK, Switzerland, Russia, Japan and Brazil and the US.

As per the global shipping line, Maersk, the early-stage vaccines may require transportation at -80°C. These volumes are usually at trial quantities and early stages. They are transported by air freight due to the ‘speed to market’ requirement. Once the vaccine is developed and reaches a stable stage for distribution some of the upstream distribution requirements might be at -20°C. However, most downstream distribution is done at 2°C to 8°C. Ocean reefer containers can maintain temperatures from -35°C to +25°C, and there is a good track record in the ocean industry of transporting pharma products at 2°C to 8°C.

Looking at the standard vaccine packaging and distribution, one can estimate the total volume that the Covid-19 vaccine will take for distribution. Assuming all vaccines will get distributed in reefer containers, the initial estimate will be that there will be a need for just above 60,000 reefer containers in total, over a period of two to three years.

This number may increase significantly if reefer containers are used for “pop up cold storages” as there is a foreseen lack of warehousing capacity for the Covid-19 vaccine, especially in less developed geographies, the shipping major said.

Experts believe that while the distribution of the vaccine itself will be a huge challenge because of the high demand across the globe, it will also bring about a difficult time for other commodities like perishables and pharma.

While the reefer containers used for shipping pharma are already in high demand and are given priority over other products, if the need arises, they will be prioritised for vaccines distribution said industry experts.

Shipping lines and logistics service providers are already working with their customers to get a forecast for the next few months and start planning to provide a suitable supply chain so that there is no disruption.

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