Cold chain technologies in logistics are key to global shipments of vaccine, and APAC is ready.

It is estimated that 10 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses must eventually be delivered worldwide. With APAC readying itself for global vaccine shipments, cold chain transportation and storage facilities and technologies are high in priority to serve global healthcare needs.

As a global logistics player with experienced healthcare teams well-versed in transportation and handling of vaccine shipments, FedEx Express is equipped with the network capabilities, expertise, and capacity to safely deliver COVID-19 vaccines within the APAC region and worldwide, bringing relief to global economies as they look to post-COVID recovery.

The FedEx Express Life Sciences Express Hub based in Singapore is central to the provision of these technologies and facilities.

Kawal Preet, President, AMEA, FedEx Express

DigiconAsia interviewed Kawal Preet, President, Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (AMEA), FedEx Express, for a better understanding of the role of cold chain technologies in logistics in general, and for COVID-19 vaccine shipments in particular, as well as a glimpse of what the post-COVID world would look like.

With APAC readying itself for global COVID-19 vaccine shipments, what are some key considerations in making available cold chain transportation, storage facilities and other related logistics?

Kawal: FedEx has decades of experience moving vaccines and other bioscience shipments around the world. We have been planning for shipping the COVID-19 vaccine for several months and we are supporting their distribution in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada already. In APAC, we have been serving the healthcare industry for two decades and have built our capabilities in transporting critical healthcare shipments.

Temperature control and real-time tracking are two important considerations to ensure successful end-to-end vaccine shipping. There is a high risk of spoilage if vaccines fall outside of the prescribed ranges for even a brief period of time. A World Health Organization (WHO) study estimates that up to 50% of vaccines are wasted globally each year, in large because of lack of temperature control and the logistics to support an unbroken cold chain.

To confront these challenges, we’ve boosted our cold chain capabilities in priority locations. We have added more than ten secure cold chain facilities across our global network, so that we now have more than 90 cold chain facilities across the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe. We have ordered ultra-low temperature freezers for our major hubs in APAC. We have sufficient availability of temperature-controlled ULDs – Unit Load Devices (palettes) – for vaccine shipments as well as non-temperature controlled ULDs. We have also significantly increased our capability to carry dry ice aboard our aircraft: on average, we now transport approximately 500,000 dry ice shipments a month between more than 100 countries worldwide, to move critical healthcare shipments like vaccines, pharmaceutical ingredients and clinical trial bio samples.

Innovation is an integral part of our healthcare solutions and services. We are using our SenseAware monitoring technology deployed in conjunction with our FedEx Priority Overnight® service. This service in itself utilizes FedEx Priority Alert® advanced monitoring to track vaccine shipments as they move through our FedEx Express network in the U.S. Our dedicated customer support agents are monitoring vaccine shipments, ready to intervene if delays occur caused by issues such as weather, traffic congestion or customs clearance threaten delivery times.

Here in APAC, we have a Vaccine Response Team (VRT) that defines the path to achieve success in shipping these vaccines with the necessary contingencies in place. We have a Vaccine Control Tower in three locations across our Asia, Middle East and Africa (AMEA) region that oversees and manages the vaccine movements by providing 24X7 coverage. We are at all times ensuring that FedEx has the necessary regulatory approvals to transport vaccines in APAC.

How does technology serve as an enabler or tool to support such logistics requirements?

Kawal: We have always been quick to invest in digital technology to boost our network and supplement our temperature-control solutions in our cold chain with real-time tracking capabilities – supported at all times by our dedicated healthcare team. Technology is a key enabler of our shipment tracking capabilities.

Our cold chain technologies range from basic options of temperature control to innovative, end-to-end solutions. We have solutions that match the temperature that vaccines have to be maintained at – whether it is at controlled room temperature, cool, cold, frozen or deep-frozen temperatures.  We can maintain temperatures – from +25 degrees all the way to -150 degrees Celsius. We use packages with built-in cooling elements such as dry ice or gel packs that enable them to be transported in a regular cargo container and delivered using a regular FedEx van.

Alternatively, for bulkier cold chain shipments, we have a range of active and passive container solutions which provide safe transportation of temperature sensitive products throughout the FedEx network. We are equipped with ultra-low-temperature freezers and refrigerated rooms for temporary storage as needed before shipments are delivered.

A good example of this is the low-energy Bluetooth sensor device called FedEx SenseAware ID we are using to support vaccine delivery in the U.S. It can record a shipment’s vital signs on six key variables – current location, precise temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure readings, light exposure and shock events, and provide near real-time updates for monitoring and analysis. The sensor is attached to the vaccine shipments to track and monitor its temperature helping to ensure these temperature-sensitive deliveries move swiftly and safely through the network using the FedEx Priority Overnight service.

From origin to destination, dedicated FedEx Priority Alert customer support agents are using SenseAware monitoring technology to track the location of vaccine shipments in near real-time. This technology is complemented by the FedEx Surround platform, which uses artificial intelligence and predictive tools to proactively monitor conditions surrounding the packages, allowing customer support agents to intervene if weather or traffic delays threaten to impede delivery times.

All in all, we’ve got a great track record in this sector and are employing all of the latest technology to make sure the vaccines get to where they are needed safely and in time.

How has FedEx Express been preparing to help meet global healthcare needs, in light of COVID-19?

Kawal: We’ve a long track record supporting the healthcare sector and have built robust capabilities in transporting critical healthcare shipments like pharmaceuticals as well as the seasonal flu vaccine. We have responded to pandemics before. In 2009, for example, we supported H1N1 vaccine distribution, shipping 80 million doses to 90,000 destination sites.

Throughout this pandemic, the logistics industry has been an essential service provider, keeping aid and packages moving. FedEx alone has shipped more than 60 kilotons of PPE globally, including over 2 billion masks.

It is estimated that 10 billion vaccine doses must eventually be delivered around the globe. Going by calculations shared by IATA, even providing a single vaccine dose to the 7.8 billion people on Earth would fill 8,000 747 cargo aircraft. Now that seems like a lot, but there is plenty of cargo capacity in our network to handle this challenge. We operate 8,000 flights a week and 32,000 flights a month, half of which are wide-bodied aircraft. That means we could deliver all of the world’s vaccines in some weeks’ time because we don’t fly an airplane just once, but multiple times.

More broadly, we move about 18 million shipments everyday safely and swiftly around the world. We operate more than 5,000 facilities with more than 680 aircraft and 200,000 motorized vehicles, all supported by nearly 600,000 dedicated team members worldwide. Our regional infrastructure includes our hub in Guangzhou, China, supported by multiple regional hubs in Osaka, Japan; Shanghai, China and Singapore.

We consider our global vaccine shipment efforts among the most important work in the history of our company and our network and team members are ready, honored and proud to be a part of effort to help end this pandemic.