Tracing the Path of the World’s Largest Vaccine Inoculation Drive

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As the run-up to the end of the pandemic ticks away with the world’s largest vaccine inoculation drive, India is racing against time in successfully pulling off the “Mission of the century “as stakeholders, freight forwarders, regulators and shippers come together to achieve this feat. We look at the preparations underway, the key cold chain initiatives put in place by leading companies and how active collaboration will be crucial in pulling off the Mission of The Century.

The stage is all set for India. As it continues with one of the world’s biggest inoculation programs, it faces the litmus test of proving how swiftly developing countries, with limited health and transportation infrastructure, can defend their citizens against a raging pandemic.

As the government continues with the arduous task of rolling out shots at an accelerated pace in a country of more than 1.3 billion people struggling with limited health infrastructure and fragmented cold-chain storage facilities, active collaborations among the members of the supply chain in ensuring seamless last mile delivery will prove to be the saving grace for the nation.

As of now, there are two vaccines that have approved by India — University of Oxford and AstraZeneca’s Covishield, made by the Serum Institute, and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin – which need to be kept refrigerated at all times to ensure potency of the vaccines.

Challenges En Route

  • Inoculating the world’s second largest population:

India’s geography and population will pose a major challenge for the pharmaceutical industry and the government in ensuring effective vaccine inoculation.

While the pharma industry has been able to come up with various vaccines to overcome this pandemic, the biggest challenge in India remains to inoculate the whole country, owing to the enormous population. Safe storage and transportation of vaccines over the next months, until the whole population gets the vaccine jab, will be critical.”

~William Boulter, Chief Commercial Officer, IndiGo
  • Maintaining Product integrity:

To maintain product integrity while transporting various types of vaccine requires different temperature categories. Another major challenge that we foresaw was clear communication and planning while transporting the vaccines since there are multiple stakeholders involved from manufacturing to inoculation-point. Every link in the supply chain needs to be prepared and 100% fail-safe.”

~Sanjiv Gupta, CEO, SpiceXpress
  • Setting up cold chain infrastructure till the last mile

For a country as big as India, setting up cold chain infrastructure till the last mile will be a litmus test for the government and stakeholders associated with the entire vaccine supply chain.

India’s geography and population are the biggest challenges for the vaccine inoculation drive. Inoculating 1.35 Billion people will be a herculean task for the governments. Setting up cold chain infrastructure till the last mile delivery point will require the mobilisation of multiple government agencies and optimum utilization of the resources. Also since the program is time-bound, it requires a lot of precision planning and top-level execution.”

~Satish Lakkaraju, Chief Commercial Officer, Agility Logistics
  • Hindrances on road

The past year has been a bane for the Road Sector as it battled a shortage of vehicles and a continuous rise in fuel prices.

“India as a country with high production capabilities: along with serving the vast population of the country, serving the world is also of priority. While as logistics provider we are all ready and equipped to serve in various capabilities and provide long haul and short haul logistics services. A key challenge that faces us is an ongoing scarcity of equipped vehicles as an industry, low cold storage facilities, bad road qualities in some regions. This is coupled with ever increasing diesel prices.”

~Kartik Shah, CEO, ColdRush Logistics

Augmenting Cold Chain Infrastructure

The most critical part of shipping a temperature-sensitive product as a vaccine is undoubtedly the cold chain system that is in place.

Dry ice, the solid form of carbon dioxide, is a critical part of plans to transport the vaccines.

IndiGo shares how dry ice is a crucial part in their efforts to transport the vaccines in India.

“We are transporting the vaccines as per the government guidelines and following requisite safety measures. As of now we are using dry ice, where necessary, to maintain the temperature of the vaccines during transportation, as per DGCA guidelines. Owing to the relatively small volumes thus far, we are currently transporting the vaccine in the belly of our passenger aircraft”, Mr Boulter says.

SpiceExpress, on the other hand, is confident about their preparations in place.

“We are capable of transporting products requiring temperature range from -40 degree celcius to + 8 degree celcius. We are already equipped with a varied fleet of Aircraft, which allows us to be flexible and can cater to any surge in demand for the additional capacity required for movement of vaccine”, shares Mr Gupta.

Satyaki Raghunath, Chief Stategy and Development Officer,Bangalore International Airport Ltd. (BIAL) sheds light on the facilities put in place at the airport.

BLR Airport is equipped to handle smooth processing of vaccines, thanks to our state-of-the-art infrastructure with a temperature-controlled cargo terminal capacity of 60,000 Metric Tonnes Per Annum (MTPA) and 25 dedicated cold storage rooms with adjustable temperature ranges from -25 to +25 degree Celsius. The Good Distribution Practices (GDP) Certification for BLR Airport demonstrates our commitment towards efficient cargo operations”, he shares.

Adhip Nath Palchaudhuri, Director [Service Business], Balmer Lawrie & Co. Ltd. mentions how they have even resorted to additional precautions to ensure a foolproof implementation.

As the only storage and logistics partner of Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad, Balmer Laurie has handled 36 lakhs doses till date. Mr Nath shares the cold chain facilities at the backdrop of such an impressive feat.

“Our Temperature Controlled Warehouse (TCW) at Hyderabad is aptly supported by our own fleet of 18 (eighteen) Temperature Controlled Vehicles (TCVs) for transportation”, he says.

“TCW, Hyderabad has 3500 pallet position in the 6 frozen and 3 chilled chambers. It is equipped to manage a temperature range from -25 to +25 Degree Celsius with PLC based automated ammonia refrigeration system. The unit possesses the Drug Control and Administration License along with BRC Certification. The G+5 multi-tier racking has load bearing capacity of more than 1.20 MT as the storage capacity for each pallet. Value added services include utility space for grading, sorting, packaging, re-packaging, dry storage, client work stations etc. There’s complete power back-up and technology support through Warehouse Management Software and adequate work stations.”

~Adhip Nath Palchaudhuri, Director [Service Business], Balmer Lawrie & Co. Ltd.

The company shares that their TCVs are capable of handling cargo within temperature range of -25 to +25 Degree Celsius and are generally used for movement of perishable products.


This article was originally published in the February issue of the Logistics Insider magazine. To read the full story, click here.

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