Partnering against pandemic

Specialised transport and logistics companies are competing to deliver world class medical supply chain services in the lead-up to the launch of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Kuehne + Nagel has more than 230 good practice certification in the pharmaceutical industry (GxP) operations worldwide, including the US, UK, Denmark, Spain, Luxembourg, Italy, France, Singapore, India, Panama, the UAE and Australia.

The company recently opened airside pharma and healthcare hubs in Brussels, Belgium, and Johannesburg, South Africa.

Direct tarmac access at Kuehne + Nagel airside facilities is reported to ensure product integrity during the logistics journey which is important because temperature-sensitive products have low to no stability outside of their stated temperature ranges.

For deep frozen shipments where temperatures of below -60°C must be maintained, Kuehne + Nagel has the fleet and the infrastructure to get it done.

Kuehne + Nagel’s new premises have dedicated areas for all ranges of temperature-sensitive products and have the capacity to change or add dry ice as required for deep frozen shipment where temperatures need to be maintained below -60°C.

“Today, new pharma and healthcare products tend to be more valuable, more temperature-sensitive and have additional requirements for storage and transportation conditions,” said Kuehne + Nagel Board Member, Yngve Ruud. “Such capabilities and facilities are not easily available globally. The new hubs in Brussels and Johannesburg will ensure that our pharma and healthcare customers can fully rely on Kuehne + Nagel to handle the specific challenges of integrity as well as provide end-to-end visibility and regulatory compliance along the logistics journey of their sensitive products. So, they can focus on the health and well-being of their patients because this is what matters the most.”

Meanwhile, DHL, in partnership with management consultants at McKinsey & Company, is reviewing its medical supply chain to prepare for the delivery of a Covid-19 vaccine when it is eventually packaged and ready for distribution.
Leonora Lim, Vice President, Life Science and Healthcare, DHL Customer Solutions and Innovation, Asia Pacific, summarised DHL’s strategy and action plan to deliver a stable supply chain for vaccine and medical goods in conversation with Global Trailer. The logistics juggernaut recently released a whitepaper on the subject.

Leonora Lim, Vice President, Life Science and Healthcare, DHL Customer Solutions and Innovation, Asia Pacific.

“An important lesson learned from the Covid-19 pandemic is that partnerships are essential for securing critical medical supplies during health emergencies. By publishing the whitepaper, DHL hopes to trigger conversations between governments, NGOs, the life science and healthcare (LSH) industry and logistics providers now to start building a partnership network and enable a more timely and effective response in the future.

“We have been building our LSH expertise and capabilities over the past two decades and have enjoyed long standing and collaborative partnerships with various stakeholders, including governments and our customers. Our established partnerships meant we were able to get the necessary pharmaceuticals and medical-related products to those in need during the Covid-19 pandemic. We work with various local authorities across 220 countries and territories and international health institutes and NGOs to ensure that we continue to operate as an essential service getting goods in and out of countries where we were sometimes the only arrivals and departures, while ensuring safety and well-being of our employees.”

Lim said DHL will continue to work closely with various stakeholders and start preparing for the transportation of Covid-19 vaccines, ensuring that live-saving products reach as many people as possible when they are ready for distribution.

“While we have also built a solid foundation in the LSH sector (with a 9,000-strong community of LSH specialists, 118 competence centres in airports and ports globally for the specialised handling of LSH products, 160-plus Good Distribution Practice (GDP)-qualified warehouses, 15-plus Good Manufacturing Practice(GMP)-certified sites and 135-plus medical express sites, we have established a global cross-divisional task force to oversee the readiness and upscaling of our current capabilities such as our competence centres, passive cooling solutions, including supply of dry ice, etc.”
DHL, it appears, continues to build upon and leverage its infrastructure, expertise and processes to meet the scale and scope of Covid-19 vaccine distribution when the time comes.

With such an epic freight task, it is likely that the industry, such as road transport operators and other logistics firms, will be expected to overcome new challenges.

“With speed of development as such an important factor, special approaches in vaccine development, testing and stabilisation are needed to accelerate the process chain,” Lim said. “When vaccines enter the market for emergency use (potentially as early as Q4 2020), a potential lack of stability data might mean stricter temperature requirements for the vaccine supply.

“Out of caution, producers of certain vaccines and their logistics providers can choose to adhere to extreme temperature requirements (as low as -80 °C), as compared to the conventional +2°C to +8°C or even higher as used in pharmaceutical supply chains today, as to ensure that the efficacy of the vaccines is maintained during storage and transport.

“Given that temperature requirements are likely to be the main challenge, regions with a particularly warm climate and those with limited cold-chain logistics infrastructure will pose the biggest challenge in a stringent vaccine distribution scenario.”

Currently, large parts of Africa, South America and Asia, according to DHL, may face a challenge due to lack of cold-chain logistics capacity suitable for life science products. “Governments and NGOs would need to implement special measures to ensure vaccine distribution,” Lim said. “Capacity would have to be increased and scaled in order to reach the global population. It is important to consider innovative packaging and passive cooling solutions, such as dry ice, to keep vaccines at their optimal temperature, innovative and specialised transportation modes to reach populations in less accessible regions, as well as recycling opportunities and optimal waste management in the case of one-way packaging.”

DHL is consulting with McKinsey & Company to review its medical supply. Lim elaborated on this partnership.

“In collaboration with our analytics partner McKinsey & Company, DHL has drawn on our decades of global logistics experience to offer a view of the logistics challenge for vaccine transportation in the coming months,” Lim said. “The whitepaper aims to urge governments, NGOs, vaccine suppliers and logistics companies to start early with informed planning, teamwork and effective partnerships to be able to secure critical medical supplies during health emergencies.”
DHL reported that more than 250 vaccines across seven platforms are being developed and tested. Also, the logistical challenges of maintaining stringent temperature requirements (up to -80°C) during transportation and warehousing, for instance, is a concern when the current network generally distributes vaccines at ~2-8°C. With this in mind, there are, according to Lim, operational challenges in the last mile road freight delivery.

“The approximate 200,000 pallets will be broken down into smaller lot sizes, substantially increasing the number of shipments to 15 million deliveries in cooling boxes, which need to be paired with the required volume of cooling bricks or dry ice,” Lim said. “The availability of cooling bricks or dry ice, and suitable packaging, will need to be taken into consideration.”

There are stringent storage and transportation requirements for vaccines to ensure their efficacy.

To ensure consistent temperature management is much more complicated for 15 million deliveries than for 200,00 pallets. Lim said DHL would need to consider the availability of vehicles and drivers for transportation, especially temperature-controlled fleets.

“The physical handling of ultra-deep-frozen shipments requires special equipment and processes to avoid injury, which means that a large number of couriers or consignees need to be trained,” Lim said. “Road transportation gets tricky in hard to reach places, therefore requiring careful route planning and trained handling to ensure efficacy of the vaccines during transit. To this end, we have published the whitepaper to trigger conversations in the eco-system of players in order to start planning and brainstorming for solutions.”

The projections for global vaccine distribution, according to DHL, include upwards of 200,000 pallet shipments, 15 million deliveries in cooling boxes and 15,000 flights which will require various supply chain arrangements. DHL details its multimodal approach.

“Given the urgency of getting vaccines to their destinations, air freight is the most viable mode for transporting the precious cargo across long distances, whereas road freight comes into the picture in shorter cross-border shipments and in the last-mile delivery,” Lim said. “Temperature controlled and monitored road freight services have always been part of our suite of solutions for the LSH sector and will be part of our vaccine distribution supply chain. In the three end-to-end supply chain archetypes for vaccine distribution described in the white paper, road freight plays an important role. The suitability of these archetypes differs depending on the temperature requirements, transport distances, and volumes as well as factors related to cost, lead time, warehouse capacity and the availability of packaging and equipment.

During these unprecedented times it could be argued that global cooperation at least between businesses and governments to help facilitate the supply and delivery of a Covid-19 vaccine would be essential.

Lim said building a partnership network in advance of a global health emergency is important to enable a timely, effective response. “Public-private partnerships should be in the form of three-way agreements between medical supply producers, logistics service providers and health authorities/governments. During Covid-19, partnerships with private companies from non-health related industries also proved important. Partnerships among governments of (neighbouring) countries and relevant trans-national committees should be an additional goal. Because pandemics are generally global or multi-national in nature (due to both pre-symptomatic incubation periods and increasingly higher levels of international travel), countries should not try to tackle them alone.

“While new partnerships can be formed in response to unexpected challenges, most partnerships and networks should be pre-established.”

As a global logistics company, DHL has been working closely with governments and medical supply producers in the shipments of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) since the start of the pandemic. That has led to the question internally on what would happen to the entire logistics chain once a vaccine is found? As such, DHL published a whitepaper to trigger a discussion among governments, NGOs, vaccine suppliers and logistics companies.

DHL Chief Commercial Officer, Katja Busch, explained that sufficient planning and appropriate partnerships within the supply chain can play a key role in protecting lives against the pandemic as governments work to secure critical medical supplies during health emergencies. Lim added to this by saying that DHL, during the pandemic, has worked with various local authorities across 220 countries and territories along with international health institutes and NGOs to ensure the business continue to operate as an essential service while also ensuring the safety and wellbeing of its employees.

“We had the advantage of being able to tap on all Deutsche Post DHL Group’s business divisions (DHL Express, DHL Global Forwarding, DHL Supply Chain and DHL eCommerce Solutions) to keep supply chains running smoothly,” Lim said. We mobilised our own network of aircraft, secured every available charter we could find, provided alternative multimodal solutions (for example, by using a combination of road, rail or ocean) and continued to deploy employees to warehouse operations with safe working measures in place, hence saving jobs and livelihoods in the process.”

Region-specific challenges can also complicate medical supply chains.

“There is no doubt that climate, seasons and weather generally have an impact on supply chain operations anywhere in the world,” Lim said. “Given the specific temperature requirements of medical products, we need to watch out for exposure to extreme cold or hot temperatures and changes in seasons which could change the way products are packed, handled and transported.

“In general, regions with a particularly warm climate and those with limited cold-chain logistics infrastructure will face challenges. Currently, large parts of Africa, South America and Asia may face a challenge due to lack of cold-chain logistics capacity suitable for life science products.

“With speed of development such an important factor, special approaches in vaccine development, testing and stabilisation are needed to accelerate the process chain. When vaccines enter the market for emergency use (potentially as early as Q4 2020), a potential lack of stability data might mean stricter temperature requirements for the vaccine supply.

“Out of caution, producers of certain vaccines and their logistics providers can choose to adhere to extreme temperature requirements (as low as -80 °C), as compared to the conventional +2°C to +8°C or even higher as used in pharmaceutical supply chains today, as to ensure that the efficacy of the vaccines is maintained during storage and transport.

“In addition to using logistics providers with reliable temperature-controlled supply chain capabilities, pharma-certified solutions and experience and expertise in the life science and healthcare sector, it is important to consider innovative packaging and passive cooling solutions, such as dry ice, to keep vaccines at their optimal temperature, innovative and specialised transportation modes to reach populations in less accessible regions, as well as recycling opportunities and optimal waste management in the case of one-way packaging.

DHL is also focused on improving the connectivity of its fleet.

DHL’s commitment to perfecting its own medical supply chain could set the standard for other logistics firms to follow.

“With Strategy 2025, Deutsche Post DHL Group sees systematic digitalisation throughout its businesses as a lever for achieving significant progress,” Lim said. “The Group will be spending around €2 billion on digitalisation and the digitalisation investment is expected to lead to yearly run rate benefits of at least €1.5 billion by 2025.

“The various DHL business divisions leverage the use of technology to optimise our core business and modernise our IT infrastructure in order to enhance customer experience, improve employee experience and increase efficiency.

“DHL Express’ Advanced Quality Control Center takes care of real-time monitoring of shipment movement at every stage of its journey to avoid any transit delays through proactive intervention.

“DHL Supply Chain’s Transport Management Center, a transportation management system linked to vehicle telematics that enhance fleet management, monitor and improve drivers’ performance, and improve visibility and security of goods.

“DHL Global Forwarding’s integrated one-stop customer portal for digital transport logistics, myDHLi allows customers to closely track their shipments. Through functionalities similar to those on social media, customers can easily follow and share this information with their trading partners to keep them informed about all aspects of the shipping journey – anytime and anywhere.

“DHL Smart Sensors – our self-designed logger to protect against changes in temperature, humidity, shock, light and even air pressure, providing easy access to full visibility of your shipments.”

Lim said global public health emergencies present immense challenges – and preparedness may save lives when the next crisis hits. “Access to medical products is essential to a successful health-emergency response, and preventing such supply issues in the future should be a clear goal moving forward. Lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic and investments in crisis prevention can help government leaders ensure adequate supplies.”

Fast Fact
DHL has developed a five-pillar strategy for successful crisis response management which is reportedly key meeting supply chain challenges of future global health emergencies. The five pillars are: Develop and disseminate a clear, pre-defined emergency response plan; build a partnership network of both public-private and public-public partnerships; identify and ensure access to required physical logistics infrastructure; establish IT-enabled supply chain transparency; and create organisational structures and allocate resources to institutionalise and coordinate the entire response management including plan, partners, infrastructure and IT.

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