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The race to find a vaccine may be over, but the marathon of the rollout has begun

The race to find a vaccine may be over, but the marathon of the rollout has begun


By Joseph Lim, Sales Director APAC, BluJay 

With multiple vaccines in circulation, the return of normalcy is on the horizon. However, to reach this stage, the vaccine rollout process begins a proverbial ‘marathon’. The supply chain needs to develop and maintain resiliency with a consistent and sustained long-term effort to make sure the vaccine gets to the people who need it most, quickly and safely.

Asia is a massive region, with each nation presenting its own complex supply challenges for logistics providers.

The tropical climate of Southeast Asia is far from conducive to the necessary cold conditions required to transport and store the vaccine. For example, with a temperature requirement of minus 20 degrees Celsius, the Moderna vaccine currently being deployed in Singapore needs to be resilient against an environment which has an average temperature between 25 and 31 degrees Celsius. Quickly developing robust cold chain logistics to support these unique conditions will be vital in maintaining a continuous supply chain and avoid unnecessary loss of vaccines.

Beyond the challenges that supply chains face when storing and distributing the vaccine, logistics providers need to deal with the border customs. With different levels of intensive international export regulations, logistics providers are presented with the complexity of navigating each individual nations’ system. Importantly, complying with these standards while assuring that the distribution remains on schedule will be vital not only in getting the vaccine to the people quickly, but ensure quality control over the process. With over eleven countries in Southeast Asia, logistics providers have a delicate balancing act to achieve a safe distribution of the vaccine.

Separate to the difficulties of the vaccine supply chain, is the threat of malicious cyber actors. As a high-value target, supply chain systems and the public need to maintain a high level of cyber protection. INTERPOL issued an orange notice to its 194 member states warning that as the rollout continues, cybercriminal networks will target both the public and private systems through disseminating misinformation, which could pose a significant threat to public health and the rollout.

INTERPOL also identified that there were 3,000 websites associated with illegal reselling of illicit medical devices promising ‘miracle cures’ and counterfeit product. Vitally, 1,700 of those contained cyber threats such as phishing and spamming hardware. Logistics providers will have a significant role to play in informing the public discourse, providing certainty that the vaccines they offer are authentic.

Supply chains are confronted with challenges to overcome and achieve a safe distribution of the vaccine. While external factors may remain out of their control, managing the official information around the distribution of multiple vaccines is a key role of supply chains, and will be crucial in maintaining visibility and transparency with the public.

Maintaining the integrity of information and processes starts with leveraging the correct tools and software to foster supply chain resiliency.

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and Machine learning (ML) will be key drivers of information visibility and resiliency.

A.I. and ML enable supply chains to transition towards an ‘asset less’ state, matching the correct supply to demand of vaccines in the given timeframe. This can be achieved because A.I. and ML will accurately optimise stock inventory, the result is minimising overproduction and pre-empt potential errors

For cold chain storage, A.I. and ML will be crucial to regulating the supply chain journey and preventing avoidable issues to the system. From temperature control in transit to quality control, A.I. and ML will be powerful tools in maintaining a continuous supply chain. Importantly, the capacity the two technologies have for predictive analytics offers cradle to grave visibility, assuring every dose is accounted for and distributed to the people who need it most.

Consulting giant KPMG dives further into this, with its report Five Ways to Optimise the COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Chain highlighting that ‘track and trace’ capability is needed. The concept is explained as the capacity to maintain robust data analytics, which establishes a real-time process for storing, transferring and processing vaccine supply and delivery data in real-time. A.I. and ML will be the tools to optimise this practice and standardise this immense commercial data, which is of further importance considering the complex state by state differences Asia encompasses. 

Vaccine doses should also include mandatory batch serialising, which make it easy not only for the public but supply chains to identify and fortify the authenticated chain of custody. Fundamentally, logistics providers will need to negotiate this with the government to determine what works for each nation. Blockchain technologies in this area will accelerate this process, enabling the seamless capture of information that can quickly verify the supplier sourcing practices. 

To proactively manage external factors, supply chains need to leverage the ‘track and trace’ data and consider providing ‘snapshots’ of the rollout at any given time to the public. This will alleviate anticipation between government updates and minimise the risk of counterfeiting through informative transparency. 

As perhaps the greatest logistics challenge of the century so far, navigating the intricacies of each country within Asia will be vital in a successful deployment of the vaccine. Considering a thoughtful approach that attempts to minimise external factors is a must, given the vested interest of the public, the government, providers and potential threats. Turning towards the right technological solutions will cultivate supply chain resiliency, crucial to safely inoculating every member of the public. 

The marathon that is the vaccine rollout has begun, and supply chains need to be mindful of the overall factors that affect the journey.