As more countries begin to vaccinate their citizens against COVID-19, logistics problems are increasingly coming to the fore. From manufacturing delays, to inadequate “cold chain” storage conditions and even location-specific delivery issues, never before has the world paid this much attention to supply chain technology.
To seasoned observers, such as Janne Juhala, co-founder of Finnish condition monitoring analytics provider Logmore, these issues are hardly new.
“The pharmaceutical logistics industry has it pretty rough,” says Juhala. “Vaccines and such tend to be vulnerable to a lot of different environmental factors. Roughly a third of all shipped pharmaceuticals are damaged before they reach the consumer. The exact numbers range between 20% and 40%, depending on the source.”
As timely vaccine deliveries become more critical than ever, firms such as Logmore are using advanced technology and analytics to help pharmaceutical manufacturers maintain delivery schedules.
Here’s how technology and data are decreasing supply chain loads around the world.
Mitigating last-mile issues
In the logistics industry, the last mile has always posed unique challenges. In the case of the COVID vaccines, delivery to doctors and medical centers is proving difficult. One of the reasons is the unique transportation conditions that most vaccine variants require.
For instance, the variant developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has to be stored at minus 70 to 80 degrees celsius to retain its effectiveness. Cold chain logistics ensure that vaccine batches are transported safely to their last-mile delivery centers. However, technological hurdles make safe delivery challenging after that.
Most last-mile delivery mechanisms lack cold chain technology or suffer from route planning hurdles. It’s tough to deliver small packages to doctors while maintaining extreme storage conditions.
Often, medical staff have limited time to mitigate storage issues due to the unique way in which the vaccines are delivered to last-mile destinations. Vaccines are shipped encased in dry ice but are defrosted and transported in refrigerated boxes for final delivery.
As a result, the vaccine batch has a shelf life of just five days, after which it becomes unusable. This is where condition monitoring solutions, such as Logmore’s data loggers, play an important role.
Sensors placed in storage boxes detect temperature changes in real-time and alert stakeholders when thresholds are breached. A good example of the efficacy of this technology occurred in January 2021, when a batch of vaccines being delivered to a station in Northern Finland breached storage thresholds.
Logmore’s data loggers alerted medical staff of the breach and gave them ample time to take corrective action. The result was that a valuable batch was saved, and vaccinations could be injected into people’s arms before it was too late.
Thanks to Logmore’s cloud-based app and APIs, data collected by these loggers are gathered on analytics platforms, where they can be analyzed for patterns and trends. For instance, persistent last-mile delivery or storage issues can be detected by algorithms quickly, and any issues can be addressed before they get out of hand.
A side effect of detecting these patterns is that reliable last-mile delivery partners can be identified, along with any location-specific hurdles that need mitigation.
Metrics that measure daily projected loads against capacity allow last-mile partners to evaluate and project their resource needs and prevent delays.
Ensuring traceability in manufacturing
Product traceability has become increasingly important in logistics. A 2019 survey conducted by Accenture revealed that more than 50% of consumers surveyed were willing to pay more for sustainable products and expected manufacturers to provide them with traceability information.
This trend has been present in B2B industries for a while, and it is something that Logmore’s Juhala is aware of.
“I think that a lot of B2B buyers have grown sick of the ‘black box’ approach,” he says. “Providing the companies that you do business with access to data that demonstrates you’re delivering the level of service you’ve been contracted to deliver just makes sense.”
Given the COVID vaccines’ time-sensitive nature, frontline medical workers need to know precise manufacturing and condition-related details of every vaccine batch they receive. Traceability isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a fundamental requirement.
The World Health Organization and vaccine manufacturers have risen to the challenge by implementing uniform GS1 barcode standards. These standards require barcodes to encode the vaccine’s identification code, the package’s lot number, and expiration date.
In addition to this, US and EU packaging regulations stipulate that each package should contain a 2D barcode that provides Global Trade Identification Number information for maximum traceability.
2D barcode packaging is a reliable, if old-fashioned, way of tracing a product’s origin. Moderna, in partnership with IBM, recently announced a blockchain-based traceability pilot program that could provide governments with up-to-date statuses of current vaccine batches at every level of the supply chain.
End-to-end traceability backed by quantifiable data also enhances communication across the supply chain by alerting downstream stakeholders of possible delivery surges. Vaccine shippers and carriers can react faster to resource demands and prevent delivery delays.
Thanks to these developments, the world can expect greater efficiency in vaccine rollouts.
Maintaining ideal storage conditions
Long-distance cold chain logistics solutions ensure that vaccine batches are safely shipped from manufacturers to distributors. While cold chain technology has become far more advanced than it was before the pandemic, it’s still far from infallible.
A particular challenge as it relates to COVID vaccine shipments is that the extremely low temperatures render most data loggers and sensors unusable. In their place, logistics companies are using sophisticated monitoring systems such as Logmore’s dry ice data loggers.
These data loggers work from refrigerator temperatures to a frigid minus 100 degrees celsius. While the technology is impressive, its most notable aspect is its ease of use.
“Our users don’t have to reconfigure their infrastructure or buy specialized scanners and hardware,” says Juhala. “Just having a smartphone is enough to use our service.” Logmore’s data loggers display a 2D QR code that contains all relevant condition-related information such as temperature, shocks, and humidity.
As a result, Juhala notes that “Data retrieval can be done on the fly using any smartphone’s camera. Those with user access to the dashboard can even analyze that data right away in the smartphone’s web browser.”
The dashboard Juhala refers to is Logmore’s analytics platform that provides users with historical and live condition-related information. Thanks to a reliable log of previous shipments, companies can figure out where weaknesses in their supply chains exist and work to mitigate them.
Analytics for enhanced safety
As the world prepares to put the COVID pandemic behind, the role that analytics and technology are playing is becoming increasingly apparent every day.
Thanks to the power of technology, not only have we witnessed vaccines developed at a record pace, but we’re also witnessing the greatest supply chain challenge gather pace right before our eyes. While delivery issues remain, there’s no doubt that analytics will smooth these issues out quickly and ensure a safer, healthier world for everyone.