The convergence of the seasonal flu and COVID-19 transmissions this winter presents an unprecedented challenge not just for the logistics industry but for people around the world. So how are we preparing to ship billions of vaccines across Asia Pacific?
The imminent arrival of COVID-19 vaccines has renewed hope that the beginnings of a global recovery could be right around the corner. With the first shipments already mobilized in December 2020, the logistics sector is all ready and geared up to meet the increased demands for medical resources, as we face a resurgence of COVID-19 cases coinciding with the seasonal spike of influenza outbreak during these winter months.
For decades, the logistics industry has worked hand-in-hand with the healthcare industry in distributing important vaccines to help fend off dangerous outbreaks around the globe. For instance, we’ve been shipping vaccines for more than a decade: in 2009 we handled H1N1 vaccine distribution, shipping 80M doses to 90K destination sites. This essential role will ramp up even more in the coming months as governments race to deliver vaccines to combat the rising cases of infections, COVID-19, flu or otherwise. With this in mind, there are key considerations in planning to distribute billions of vaccines and other medical supplies to those in need.
Scaling up for distribution
The Asia Pacific region is home to more than half of the world’s population, made up of a diverse group of countries each with aging populations that have unique healthcare needs. The sudden emergence of COVID-19 last year and the subsequent travel restrictions implemented led to widespread supply chain disruption across the region. However, by leveraging the flexibility and strength of the logistics industry network, we have continued to adapt to local logistical challenges in addressing medical needs.
In addition to maximizing the use of our current shipping volumes, we have been creating extra capacity in anticipation of the surge in demand for vaccines and medical supplies this year. Since April, we have increased our flight operations between Asia and Europe by almost 50%, doubled our flight operations at our hubs in Japan and Singapore, and boosted the number of flights into and out of our APAC hub in China in China to 270 each week. We prioritize urgent medical shipping orders to ensure that life-saving products and equipment can reach patients on time. We have been expediting the opening or re-opening of new and inactive accounts in China to facilitate medical supply importation, navigating different country regulations and restrictions on critical PPE, medicines and medical equipment and enacting measures to protect our customers and team members, such as contactless delivery and digitally enabled deliveries through Roxo, our FedEx SameDay Bot, which is currently in testing phase. Furthermore, we are also continually expanding our cold chain capacity, as we are planning on adding 10 more cold chain facilities into our network soon.
Protecting lives through cold chain
For every vaccine, from the moment it comes out of the production line, each vial must be temperature-controlled until it reaches the vaccination point, where it can be administered to the patient. According to the World Health Organization, more than 50% of vaccines are wasted on a global scale, largely due to the lack of temperature control and monitoring during its distribution and storage.
Failure to properly handle and store vaccines can reduce the vaccine’s effectiveness in protecting patients against the virus. Current COVID-19 vaccines, such as Pfizer’s BNT162b2, need to be stored under temperature conditions as low as -70°C±10°C. FedEx is working closely with healthcare customers alongside relevant governments to prepare for the shipment of COVID-19 vaccines when they are approved and ready for distribution. In the U.S., we have just shipped out the first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines across the country after approval was granted by the U.S. FDA.1
With over 90 cold chain facilities across our global network, FedEx has been investing in its healthcare capabilities for decades, and is well positioned to be the ideal logistics partner for the delivery of important medicines and other goods such as medical devices, vials, testing kits that are shipped by the healthcare industry. A FedEx Customized Freight (FCF) service can provide temperature-controlled containers that can maintain a set internal temperature anywhere between +25°C to -70°C. Specialized packaging and shipping, such as those offered by FedEx Healthcare Priority services, can help to safeguard critical healthcare supplies along the supply chain.
SenseAware, an in-package tracking and sensing device created with and for biotech and pharmaceutical companies, allows healthcare companies to monitor their shipments through multiple sensors recording temperature, location, light exposure, humidity and shock. The monitored data is transmitted back to a web platform in near real-time. This way, drug manufacturers and healthcare facilities can be assured of conditions in which their high-value and sensitive items are shipped and the quality of the same when delivered to their doorstep.
Entering this critical juncture in the global fight to defeat COVID-19, logistics providers will play a central role in delivering life-saving medicines, diagnostic devices and medical supplies across the globe. As we embark on the largest international vaccination campaign in human history, our unparalleled global network, cold chain technology and innovation help equip us for the challenges ahead. Most importantly, it brings significance to who we are and what we do -- delivering hope and recovery for struggling communities and societies across Asia and worldwide.