COVID-19 Vaccine & The Cold Chain

In recent weeks we have learned of the transportation challenges the COVID-19 vaccine will present, with the temperature requirements being only one of them. With the sheer massiveness of the project, many are wondering if the cold-chain will be affected. 

In November, both Pfizer (and BioNTech) and Moderna reported on the efficacy of their vaccine trials and have submitted requests for authorization of emergency use. On December 9th, Canadian Health Officials authorized use of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The US is expected to move in the same direction.

With that being said, the race is on to get this precious cargo in the hands of providers who will administer the vaccine, likely to health care workers and the high-risk population first; but what does this mean for our cold chain?

Air & Ground Cold Chain Will Be Utilized

Moderna’s vaccine has to be shipped at -20 degrees Celsius and can be stored for up to 6 months at that temperature. Once thawed, it must be kept in a refrigerator between 2 to 8 degrees Celsius and must be administered within 30 days

Pfizer’s vaccine presents the greatest challenge having to be shipped at a whopping -70 degrees Celsius. Once thawed and transferred to a refrigerator, it must be administered within 5 days

Both companies are ramping up the production in anticipation of emergency use authorization and working to get the infrastructure in place for such a complex supply chain, specifically Pfizer’s vaccine with the ultralow cold chain. 

The shipping of the vaccine will require a combination of air and ground transport, using a modern-day hub and spoke system. Mass quantities will be shipped via air to large distribution centers and loaded on trucks and/or couriers to deliver to other smaller distribution centers and administration sites.

While large companies such as Pfizer have traditionally partnered with companies like UPS and FedEx, it is suspected there will be a need for an “all hands-on deck” approach to distribute the waves of vaccine shipments.

The shipping of the much-awaited COVID-19 vaccine has already begun, and we can count on this affecting the other parts of the cold chain as distribution rolls out.

Reduced Capacity & Higher Rates Anticipated

Transporting your loads of protein, produce, plants and other food products will likely be a bit more tricky than in previous years given the holiday season and the pandemic.

Perishable shippers should expect a low reefer capacity for the next 6 to 9 months as waves of the vaccines roll out. With a lower capacity, that means the cost to transport perishable goods is expected to increase significantly.

Tips To Prepare

Here are a few tips for success:

  1. Plan ahead! Easier said than done, right? We all know in this industry, last minute shipments are no stranger; however, try to forecast shipments with your buyers ahead of time. 
  2. Expect premiums for eleventh-hour shipments! There’s a lot of work involved when a client needs their logistics provider to drop everything and put their shipment at top priority.  
  3. Understand that capacity drives the market. If there are 100 loads to one truck, this gives the carriers the power to raise the price of transportation, which is to be expected.  
  4. Partner with logistics providers who may be able to secure freight rates in advance, and understand they may not be able to do so depending on the circumstances.
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About Author
Chelsea Teal

Although new to the PCB family, Chelsea continues to make her mark heading up our perishable freight team as the Supervisor for ground shipments around the world. She has extensive knowledge of ground transportation solutions and logistics. With an education in Animal Science from New Mexico State University, she transitioned to the supply chain and logistics industry over six years ago and never looked back.

While we strive for accuracy in all our communications, as the Importer of Record it is incumbent upon your company to ensure that you are aware of the requirements under the new regulations so that you maintain compliance as always.