A report published by the London-based Royal Academy of Engineering cites the role of the food cold chain in vaccine distribution, and says that the cold chain needs to be strengthened – and assets may need to be requisitioned – in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report, “Supply Chain Challenges, Lessons Learned and Opportunities,” was published on July 13 and can be downloaded here.
This comes as the COVID-19 pandemic highlights gaps in the food cold chain, spurring groups like the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) to engineer a clean cooling COVID-19 vaccine-logistics mechanism, and compelling the World Health Organization (WHO) to consider the problem of cooling vaccines for people living off electricity grids.
The report notes that the global cold chain is incomplete, especially in developing countries. “Vaccine cold chains are by no means comprehensive and up to 25% of vaccines in the developing economy are wasted owing to the lack of a suitable cold chain,” according to the report.
Faced with the question “How will we distribute vaccines across the planet in the shortest possible time, using the existing cold chains?”, the report notes the strengths of the existing cold chain, and its resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The food and drink sector has broadly held up, yet the pandemic has drawn attention to different parts of the system that can be strengthened to enable supply chains to respond to future shocks.”
The report suggests leveraging and strengthening existinglinks in procurement, logistics, storage, and delivery, in tandem with improving vaccine research programs as ways to future-proof vaccine distribution.
To this end, the report suggests creating “a digital interface that maps and strengthens understanding of connectivity and bottlenecks in supply chains,” which highlights areas to reduce carbon emissions while increasing national growth. It also highlighted the need for better communication at government level.
In addition, the critical need to distribute large quantities of vaccine and test kits may require the requisition of cold chain assets from the food/pharma supply chain, says the report.
In the early stages of the pandemic, the report observes, critical resources and infrastructure providers were deemed essential and were given clear guidance while “others that are equally important for the smooth running of a supply chain were not given clear instructions.”
This guidance is essential and echoes calls, such as from the International Institute of Refrigeration, for governments to recognize the essential role of refrigeration and its role in the cold chain.