Logistics and Distribution: Getting Shots into Arms


Feb 26, 2021

2020 will be remembered as one of the most significant and devastating years in humanity’s history. The success story, amid all the chaos and suffering, was the unprecedented speed at which several vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 were developed, tested and approved for use. But that is just the first step in restoring normality. Scaling up output from manufacturers to meet overwhelming demand in a mostly immunologically naïve planet of nearly 8 billion people, has already proven to be a far greater challenge than many anticipated. And even with sufficient supply, further major hurdles exist in the form of logistics, transport, storage and distribution.

Businesses often refer to ‘last-mile delivery’, the final step in getting product to consumer, as the most complex aspect of an entire supply chain. Given cold-chain requirements and relatively short shelf-lives of some of the COVID-19 vaccines in particular, this task becomes increasingly difficult. Add in to the mix political pressures, a need for digital systems to track doses and recipients, commissioning of dedicated vaccination centres, distribution to remote communities without reliable electricity, viral mutations threatening vaccine efficacy, and even vaccinators getting shot at by rural tribes with bows and arrows. What’s more, virtually every nation on Earth is trying to achieve widespread immunization of their population as rapidly as possible, at the exact same time.

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore outlined in January 2021 the gauntlet that lay ahead: “Last year we saw truly unique human ingenuity to successfully develop effective and safe vaccines in record time. This year, we turn to the biggest logistical challenge the world has ever seen. And we need all hands on deck.”1

Operation Vaccination: An Analysis of Global COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Strategies is a weekly post which will explore the policy, logistics, obstacles and controversies involved in procuring and distributing vaccines against COVID-19.

The theme of this week is “Logistics and Distribution: Getting Shots into Arms.

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