Distributing a COVID-19 Vaccine: Solving the Cold Chain Challenges

By: David Van Steenwinckel, Project Manager

At this moment pharma industry is gearing up to immunize at least 70% of the global population against Covid-19. The center of gravity is gradually shifting from vaccine development to worldwide distribution of the vaccines and the associated cold chain logistic challenges. The supply chain process for this gigantic task is complex, requiring properly functioning storage/packaging, cold chain transit, shipping and storage solutions. As experts estimate that somewhere between 12 billion and 15 billion COVID-19 vaccines need to be distributed globally, the need for a trusted, secure cold chain is very large.

There are several questions the pharmaceutical industry needs to ask itself when it comes to distributing a COVID-19 vaccine, including:

  • Do you have insight into your entire end-to-end supply chain from manufacturer to patient?
  • How do you manage over/under provisioning inventory, obsolescence and expiration by location?
  • Are your end facilities set up for specific requirements such as cryogenic temperature storage?
  • How can you protect against security, counterfeits and diversion issues?
  • How can you minimize product loss from excursions?


A successful global vaccination will require a sophisticated approach. Traceability across the supply network as well as real-time operational delivery are among the essential capabilities to optimize the cold chain. Fortunately, there are some supply chain strategies and new technologies that can be leveraged to accomplish this.

To ensure product quality and traceability across the supply network, we need a system that enables us to track unit-level items, spot problems, find an optimized solution, communicate action plans, and orchestrate a response. Business network technology enables us to do this. Business network platforms enable full traceability for every item from start to finish, providing visibility across final products, intermediates, and raw materials in real time from their source, across trading partners and to the end consumer.

Of course, business networks by themselves are not sufficient to guarantee success. Improving a supply chain often starts with operational visibility, which in turn is catalyzed by real-time and accurate information from within the supply chain. A typical example for the vaccine cold chain is the importance of strict temperature controls. Any kind of temperature excursion from a predefined range could result in an entire shipment of spoiled vaccines.

To achieve end-to-end, real-time operational visibility throughout the entire supply chain, a holistic approach with IoT, analytics, AI and machine learning plays an essential role in helping organizations establish ground truth. It combines the power of telematics with planning and execution to provide global visibility, quality tracking, and optimized decision making.

The combination of track-and-trace technology with visibility software makes real-time visibility into the cold chain a reality, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Cold chains need to be able to provide the right vaccines in the right quantities, in the right condition, and at the right time, place and cost in order to be successful. Pharma companies will be well on their way to the successful distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine if they can achieve true visibility throughout their supply chains and collaborate with other companies to creatively solve cold logistics issues.

At Modis Life Sciences, our experienced supply chain consultants and managers can help you to analyze your specific needs regarding end-to-end supply chain visibility and to gear up your cold chain for current and future challenges.

– David Van Steenwinckel, Project Manager