Co-Founder and CEO of Onfleet.
Following the success of multiple effective Covid-19 vaccines, the logistical challenges to distributing them are enormous, vital and complex. While no one has ever delivered such a large number of vaccines in such a short time period, at Onfleet, we have extensive expertise in last-mile delivery and understand what companies are up against.
For our clients delivering prescription medicine, we’ve helped ensure the privacy of transactions and encryption of all internal communications. For those delivering cannabis and alcohol, we’ve helped track proof of identification, manifests, driver education and other intricate, often-shifting requirements that differ from state to state. And for personal protective equipment (PPE) deliveries, we’ve helped connect hospitals, clinics, senior centers, at-home seniors and healthcare volunteers.
From this vantage point, these are the key challenges we’d keep an eye out for when delivering the Covid-19 vaccine, and the solutions that may help:
• Vaccine Spoilage: Vaccines don’t hold their potency for long. This will prove to be especially challenging in managing the delivery to rural areas and maintaining the vaccine’s integrity.
• Cold Chain: Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines need to be kept cold, with Pfizer requiring a deep freeze of -94 degrees Fahrenheit. Areas and nations with less cold-distribution infrastructure may find themselves sharing it with other industries.
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• Vaccination Site Availability: To avoid long lines or lack of access, states and cities will need to pinpoint appropriate venues for vaccination. Many of these will need to be repurposed (like the partnership with a movie theater in North Carolina).
• Regulations And Privacy: In the U.S., healthcare providers must contend with state-by-state differences as well as privacy laws. These laws were designed to protect and not to streamline a rapid distribution. Navigating these regulations may lead to communication issues that disrupt the logistics cycle in place.
• Fragmented Communications: When communication has gaps or confusing elements, it will naturally affect the distribution network. State-by-state breakdowns in the process, particularly in rural areas, may stymie efforts to administer, arrange deliveries and confirm the appropriate dosage cycle.
Technology To The Rescue
Technology has significantly improved since the last worldwide pandemic. Not only have companies developed a reliable vaccine only shortly after the disease’s arrival, but technology can also help with transparent, secure and reliable delivery of that vaccine across multiple agencies and organizations.
These factors are worth considering when mapping out this supply chain challenge:
Anticipate traffic jams before they happen. Unified systems will be paramount. An end-to-end delivery platform can help planners forecast everything from route optimization to supply chain fluctuations and provide updates in real time. A system that connects the dots and provides clear, secure access to essential information can help planners set up (or adjust) the right number of appointments, secure down new resources and coordinate — all in real time.
Increase transparency and clear communication. If, for example, a vaccine freezer breaks down on the road, the driver should be able to inform the facility instantly. If a hospital is waiting for its shipment, leadership should know where it is on the route and receive automatic updates on the estimated time of arrival. Modern delivery platforms can help everyone work in concert. Automated and essential communications will help pave the way for the vaccine delivery itself.
Ensure regulatory compliance. Vaccine transporters have myriad regulations to ensure the safety of their precious cargo. Tailoring regulations for these special needs could help different localities remove some of the mental burdens. Prescription and cannabis industries, for example, have embedded established reliable systems into their delivery software to track these regulations and ensure their drivers and all involved remain compliant.
Maintain real-time focus for on-the-fly issues. On the day of delivery, features like dispatcher oversight, estimated time of arrival (ETA), automatic text (SMS) message notifications, dynamic navigation and proof of delivery can ensure everyone knows where the resources are and can respond and make adjustments.
Remain nimble. Last year, many businesses and nonprofits had to pivot their business model quickly, often in as little as 24 hours, to adjust to Covid-19 mandates — for example, by adding delivery options. Whatever strategies we use for vaccine distribution, we’re sure to stumble upon “unknown unknowns” along the way. Real-time mapping and updates will be key to overcoming these speedbumps and delivering vaccines to their destinations. Sharing information between delivery companies will be helpful as well, including data and insights from on-the-ground experiences.
Other Elements To Consider
Part of the burden of last-mile delivery necessarily falls on physical requirements, like refrigeration, truck supply, venue selection, preparation and human training. As we’re tackling these physical problems, here’s what I recommend:
• Extra vaccines? Have a plan. Establish a standard process to remind patients of their appointments and a list of readily available alternative recipients to be contacted.
• Cold-chain storage requires planning. To avoid vaccine spoilage, distribution centers should have backup plans in case their freezers fail. One effective example is the Iowa Department of Public Health’s vaccine storage and handling document, which covers all the backup contingencies. With such valuable vaccines, we’d all benefit from a backup plan.
• Harness existing facilities. Anywhere with refrigeration that could accommodate large groups of people and has public transportation or parking could be helpful for the physical limitations we’re experiencing. Stadiums, medical ships or movie theaters are all options to consider.
It Will Be A Team Effort
After a year of sheltering in place, we’re all committed to overcoming this pandemic and turning a new chapter. While there may be no one-size-fits-all model for vaccine distribution, we can all work together to improve our methods. From our company’s experience with both the human aspects and the technology of delivery, we’re excited to contribute to solutions and help spread health.