Securing cold-chain shipments to emerging COVID-19 hotspots

Sofia Wiwen-Nilsson Head of Marketing and Communications

COVID-19 vaccines have finally reached the market and communities around the world are getting ready for mass immunization against the virus. WHO’s guidelines from late 2020 advise national authorities to develop a strategy to manage the vaccination process. The organization also provides core principles to guide vaccine distribution. To ensure efficient and effective COVID-19 vaccine roll-out the vaccines need to be delivered safely to multiple destinations, including hard-to-reach geographies. Envirotainer has been involved in the process from the start and contributed innovative solutions to allow secure COVID-19 vaccine shipments to areas with limited cold-chain infrastructure.

In the world of COVID-19

If the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic was marked by efforts to contain the virus and a scientific race to produce a vaccine, the second year will be dominated by mounting the largest vaccination in human history. And just as the virus travelled the world, the vaccines must follow in its geographical footsteps to support the global recovery. The large-scale production and transportation of this crucial vaccine has dictated the need to improve the existing cold-chain infrastructure and well-established business models, inspiring the actors to develop even more effective and coordinated cooperation.

Call to action in logistics

Given the new demand for increased transportation of pharmaceuticals, strengthening of the existing cold chain capacity is essential. According to a 2019 report from the International Air Transport Association, approximately 25% of shipped vaccines are compromised due to poor temperature management. The fact that air cargo space is finite and drastically reduced due to the pandemic complicates the situation further. Since a secure cold-chain is such a mission critical factor in COVID-19 vaccine distribution, innovation and improvement is of vital importance.

Rising to the challenge with a customer

LATAM Cargo is considered the largest airline in South America and one of the biggest airline groups in terms of network connections in the world. Being a vital part of the cold-chain infrastructure, the company needed to distribute large quantities of COVID-19 vaccines to South America on a recurring basis. Due to the limitations in air freight capacity out of Latin America, they required a solution that would not need to be repositioned outside the region.

Being a long-term customer, LATAM Cargo approached Envirotainer with the task of developing a temperature-controlled solution that could be implemented on short notice to meet the requirements for promptly shipping large quantities of COVID-19 vaccines to South America.

From concept to station

To create a solution and meet LATAM Cargo’s requirements, Envirotainer joined efforts with our handling partner Unilode. Unilode helps to establish and run permanent stations around the globe and provide inspection and service of temperature-controlled containers on a daily basis.

From start to finish, the establishment of a fully operational station in Chile only took a few weeks to set up

The lease of such containers with their return in a specific location requires an Envirotainer station presence. The set-up of a permanent station with full repair capacity and a stock of units is normally a two-to-three-month process; time the customer did not have. Due to the temporary character of the one-way lease, LATAM Cargo provided a secured and fenced-off area for the storage of the containers and the end of all leases in their facilities in Santiago, Chile. The local members of Unilode staff were trained on all aspects of handling the temperature-controlled containers, including inbound inspection. From start to finish, the establishment of a fully operational station in Chile only took a few weeks to set up and gave name to the new ‘Pop-up station’ concept.

“The development of this pop-up station proves how partnering across the value chain is the key to success. In this case, the collaborative and efficient work between LATAM Cargo, Envirotainer and Unilode generated great results in record time. This outcome has enabled faster COVID-19 vaccine distribution at a very critical moment and shows our commitment to contribute to the well-being of South America’s people”, states Cristina Onate, Marketing & Product Development VP at LATAM Cargo.

No change in availability for existing customers

With the pop-up station in place, Envirotainer can meet acute demands for delivering COVID-19 vaccines without impacting services for other customers. Ernest Murphy, Head of Operations Americas, explains:

“From my vantage point, the biggest challenge supporting the global pandemic with the transportation of the COVID-19 vaccines, is that we must maintain our current availability to our existing customers. If we were to focus all resources on COVID-19, we would do a huge disservice to our existing customers who rely on us every single day to provide them with temperature-controlled solutions to safeguard and transport their pharmaceuticals globally. Creating pop-up stations allows us to meet this new demand while mitigating the risk of our ongoing cold-chain business. This new concept allows us to become operational rather quickly in markets where we do not have existing partnerships, thereby meeting the ever-changing demand of the distribution of the new vaccines.”

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