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COVID-19 Vaccine: Understanding the Logistics and the Cold Chain

By Verizon Connect December 22, 2020

On December 11, 2020, the FDA issued emergency use authorization in the U.S. for the first COVID-19 vaccine, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, to be distributed. 1

This puts the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) “Operation Warp Speed” into full effect. Operation Warp Speed's goal is to “produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines…as part of a broader strategy to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.”2

To pave the way for warp speed vaccine distribution, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has extended hours of service (HOS) regulatory exemptions for “commercial truck drivers and fleet operators who will be hauling the vaccines and related supplies, in addition to the supplies that [the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)] previously included under the exemption.” 1

The exemption applies to "carriers and drivers providing direct assistance in support of relief efforts related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Direct assistance means transportation and other relief services provided by a carrier or its drivers that are needed for the immediate restoration of essential services (such as medical care) or essential supplies related to COVID-19 during the emergency."3

With vaccine shipments already arriving in states across the country, fleets and drivers tasked with the safe transport and delivery of this precious cargo must ensure that proper temperature control and location tracking is maintained at all times.

Temperature control and location tracking for the COVID-19 vaccine 

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Multiple Dose Vials must be kept frozen between -80ºC to -60ºC (-112ºF to -76ºF) and protected from light until ready to use.4 Vaccines expected from other pharma companies may have different requirements for temperature control and quality maintenance. Though the vials will be shipped in thermal containers that contain dry ice, it will be crucial to ensure temperature control is maintained throughout the supply chain. For trucking fleets carrying vaccine shipments, maintaining the cold chain and ensuring proper monitoring and tracking of refrigerated trailers, commonly referred to as reefers, is crucial to transport success.

What is the cold chain, and why is it relevant to the vaccine?

The “cold chain” refers specifically to a temperature-controlled supply chain, which includes refrigerated production, storage and distribution. It requires specialized equipment, such as temperature-controlled trailers, to function well. It further relies on a series of refrigerated activities to keep shipments within a consistent and correct low-temperature range during transportation. 

Wireless trailer monitoring systems play an important role in maintaining the proper temperature in reefers. Here, the cold chain shippers and carriers use asset tracking sensors to monitor temperature and other environmental variables to help prevent unsafe temperature fluctuations for shipments of perishable goods—such as the first COVID-19 vaccines being distributed in the U.S. Further, fleets can also benefit from door sensors that are a part of an asset tracking solution and can help identify the cause in case of temperature fluctuations.

COVID-19: Impact on Trucking Companies, Economy and Trade

Why is last-mile delivery important?

When it comes to mass distribution of something as important as a vaccine, last mile delivery cannot be overlooked. The last mile is considered the “make it or break it” stage of any supply chain, and it’s the stage with the biggest impact.

Vaccine shipments must be delivered on time and with as little interruption to the operations of those receiving the shipments as possible. This means drivers must be prepared with information about the proper route, loading dock locations and even parking restrictions or traffic flow issues at the delivery site.

Technology that supports customizable route optimization, turn-by turn directions right to the loading dock and geofences around destination locations to alert dispatch when a truck arrives, is crucial. It can help provide fleets the data necessary to complete their cargo handoff safely and on time when it counts most. 

Logistics and technology

COVID-19 vaccine distribution is a highly critical operation. The transporters must pay extra attention to the safety of the product and speed of delivery. Near-real time visibility for trailers and other assets, near-real time monitoring of temperature, and on-demand communication with truck drivers – could help fleet operators manage this operation with efficiency.

  • The cornerstone of cold chain management efficiency is information. An asset tracking solution provides full asset visibility in near real-time, including location, current status and usage history. That means you can easily track trailers through the crucial last mile of delivery route, and verify that there’s space on the receiving dock to stage and load products in an appropriate temperature-controlled environment.
  • Asset tracking further allows you to track broad range of key indicators, including temperature. Using status updates and automated alerts, fleet managers can monitor temperature data, reefer status, door closure and movement, excessive vibration, intrusion and more.
  • Tracking solutions enable you to automate geofence alerts when a shipment nears its destination. When a trailer is delivered, you can help facilitate unloading quickly and monitor the movement to its next temperature-controlled location, maintaining product safety and integrity. 

Fleets are vital to vaccine distribution success

Fleets and their drivers play a crucial role in the vaccine distribution network. According to Material & Handling Logistics, “One indication of how important trucking’s role is viewed is that truck drivers are included in the essential workers priority group to be administered some of the first doses of the vaccine.”3

If truckers are essential workers, then by extension the trucks they drive and the technology that supports them are also essential.3 As the U.S. supply chain gears up for the distribution of this critical vaccine, temperature control and location tracking technologies could be an important addition to their technology toolbox.

For more updates on the latest impact of COVID-19 on the transportation industry, click here





Verizon Connect

Verizon Connect Staff represents a team of professionals passionate about everything telematics. Get to hear about the latest trends, product features and industry best practices from the desk of Verizon Connect Staff.

Tags: COVID-19

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