Covid-19 vaccination in India

Challenges and factors that will help transform the Indian logistics and cold supply chain

Image: Artem Podrez on Pexels

Even as the country gears up for the first million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine by January 2021, the government’s massive efforts to ensure this monumental initiative’s efficacy are already driving transformation in the logistics and cold supply chain sector in the country. This is a massive and one of its kind initiative that will test the resolve, efficacy, trainability, co-ordination, IT and operational muscle, and the government’s ability to orchestrate a coordinated, efficient, and smooth vaccine storage and distribution plan. Some of the key challenges and features that make this a unique endeavor include:

-Mass drive: There has never before been such a massive adult vaccination drive in the country, and the sheer scale of it makes it an unprecedented task ahead that needs to be carried out with utmost efficiency and accuracy. Further, the fact that the vaccine needs a repeat dosage after a set duration makes this a complex process that needs an equally complex follow up.

Aditya Vazirani, chief executive officer – Robinsons Global Logistics Solutions

-Temperature sensitivity: The vaccines require to be transported at well-regulated temperatures from the time of being packaged to being delivered to hospitals, making a uniform and thoroughly regulated cold storage and distribution as a non-negotiable prerequisite.

-Skilled workforce: Apart from logistics and cold supply chain, the vaccine transportation and administration also requires a highly skilled set of medical and logistic staff; that is aware of the nuances and strict protocols required to maintain the efficacy of the vaccine during transportation and effectively handle and administer the vaccine once it reaches its destination.

-Collaborative partnerships: In order to accomplish this task, the government will be calling upon several stakeholders, making this one of the most coordinated and collaborative partnership between public and private organizations spread across the length and breadth of the country.

While in line with the above requirements, the government has recently announced plans to strengthen the cold storage facilities infrastructure, which includes 29,000 cold chain points across the country, 240 walk-in coolers, 70 walk-in freezers, 45,000 ice-lined refrigerators, 41,000 deep freezers, and 300 solar refrigerators, all of which will be provided to aid in creating a robust cold distribution and supply chain network for the vaccine. While this announcement has been a welcome one for both health and logistics players, there still remains a lot to be done to ensure the herculean task can reach fruition. Listed here are some factors that, if considered and adopted, can make this a massive success.

1. Leveraging smart technology: India still needs to be mindful of the ongoing Covid wave and hence, ensure precautionary measures by minimizing human employment and replace them with technology-enabled services, wherever possible. While there is technology enablement to ensure transparency and real-time update of the government’s distribution process, a lot more can be done to ensure efficacy and accuracy during the entire undertaking. Leveraging the best of emerging technology and smart IoT devices for temperature regulation, tracking, and cold storage monitoring can go a long way in minimizing human intervention and maintaining the vaccines’ viability. This could be an opportunity to showcase the best of health tech’s and logistic tech’s prowess of India as a country and what it can achieve when driven by excellence and purpose.

2. Sustainable and mindful use of resources: Although a large-scale initiative like this demands enormous manpower and resources, a mindful and conscious approach to resources will help arrest spread of the pandemic, optimize energy while also reducing chances of human error. Sustainable options such as a wide-scale use of solar-powered cold storage set-ups and portable refrigerators and mindful packaging can help optimize energy consumption and control the waste generated out of this task while ensuring resources in terms of money and time be optimized. Employing locally trained staff, setting up solar power infrastructure, operating in shifts to ensuring a backend infrastructure of recycling the used vials/ packaging is equally important to ensure such a huge cold storage and distribution endeavor doesn’t translate into an energy crisis or a waste management nightmare. There is already a considerable impact on the environment with single-use PPE kits, masks, and other items used to combat the virus. With a considerable time frame ahead, the planning is critical to ensure the protection of the environment is considered.

Image: Karolina Grabowska

3. Focused manpower development: Given the targeted efforts towards the vaccine distribution plan, it is essential to focus on the workforce development associated with the task at various levels. While training cold storage and distribution task force in handling the vaccine and training healthcare administrators in the basics of handling the vaccine during transit are being taken care of, there also needs to be a focus on training the ancillary staff. Truck drivers and cargo/ consignment handlers to on-ground staff that will be responsible in handling the vaccine during any given point of its lifecycle are vital to ensure there are no slip-ups that can damage the viability of the vaccine. Accordingly, a short-term training program that allows a certificate or endorsement of sorts may be rolled-out. Only certified or endorsed personnel should be permitted to be a part of the entire supply chain. This can help minimize human errors and accidents.

4. Localization of efforts: Given the length and breadth of our country, localization is going to be the key to effective administration of the vaccine. While local governments and health authorities are forming task forces to ensure effective distribution, partnership with local logistics SME/ MSME and third party logistic service providers for cold supply chain support can be a key to minimizing efforts and speeding up the processes. After a thorough application and verification process, these 3PL and 4PL entrepreneurs can lead the way to help build a robust, collaborative distribution network.

This is unarguably set to be one of the largest, nationwide collaborative effort for Indian healthcare, technology, and logistics sector, driven by the Indian government, and is set to alter not only the course of the pandemic but also the entire health and pharmaceutical supply chain, especially the cold storage and distribution network.


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