cargo shipping across sky
cargo shipping across sky

Immunizing the world for a brighter tomorrow – ocean freight will play a pivotal role

Niels Van Namen, CEVA Logistics Global Healthcare Sector Leader

Immunizing the world for a brighter tomorrow – ocean freight will play a pivotal role

In the autumn of 2020, the potential light at the end of the tunnel for the global pandemic came into view, in the form of multiple vaccines. The question of how those vaccines would get into the arms of those in need created a lot of industry chatter. Firstly, IATA estimated that up to 8,000 Boeing 747 freighter flights would be required to meet the air capacity demand needed to fly billions of temperature-sensitive vaccines around the world.

Air cargo capacity crisis averted

By Christmas 2020, the massive-scale capacity crisis had not come to pass as localized manufacturing of vaccines combined with large-scale production issues. In addition, the pharma companies whose vaccines had received government approvals were able to deliver much of their product by road transport to neighboring countries.

Now in 2021, with many developed countries reaching higher levels of population vaccination, we are left two long-term challenges. The first is getting quantities of vaccines to countries that were not at the forefront of the first deliveries. The second is the final mile distribution of the vaccine in hard-to-reach locations once the vials arrive at the destination country. As airfreight capacity continues to see constraints in passenger flights globally, manufacturers must look at alternative transport modes where possible. But the challenge remains to build a reliable, sustainable supply chain to underserved countries amid the current air capacity context. The question must be asked: can ocean freight reefer services provide one of the answers to the vaccine distribution challenge, as the virus seems to be here to stay.

Air cargo


The challenge of equitable access

For governments and health authorities around the world, COVID-19 vaccine availability is at the top of their agendas, and the disparity in vaccine access between countries is evident despite the ramp-up of global production. To address this issue, the WHO (World Health Organization) led the development of a Fair Allocation Framework to ensure that successful COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are shared equitably across all countries.

The WHO is also one of the leaders of the global alliance known as COVAX, which coordinates international resources to enable countries equitable access to COVID-19 tests, therapies and vaccines, regardless of a country’s economic strength. Identifying how supply chains can be optimized to meet the ongoing demand for vaccines is key to the successful protection of citizens in these countries.

Airfreight is the fast option, while also the most expensive option and outside the reach of many countries with developing economies. But the increasingly sophisticated, reliable, well-controlled active refrigeration technology now available through using ocean reefer containers brings a viable, cost-effective and more environmentally friendly solution into play.



Ocean freight alongside logistics is the viable, flexible solution

Vaccines with a “shelf life” over six months could be highly suitable for movement by ocean. Before the pandemic struck, leading pharmaceutical companies were already recognizing the advantages of ocean over air because of fewer touchpoints along the journey and, therefore, more security.

Using ocean freight also requires a flexible, multi-modal partner who can design a solution that will work in the most challenging delivery environment. As more and more vaccines become available, end-to-end solutions will be the ideal choice, such as the ones CEVA Logistics offers through its ocean transport providers, including its parent company, CMA CGM.


Africa – the opportunity to make a difference now and in the future

Africa is an obvious candidate for an ocean-led strategy, as both CEVA and CMA CGM have extensive market knowledge and expertise. CEVA has a presence in more than 40 African countries with full-service warehouses delivering vast storage capacity and a trucking network for nearly continent-wide coverage.

CMA CGM delivers more than 30 services to Africa through four main products: Asia to West Africa, Asia to East and South Africa, Europe to West Africa, and Indian Sub-continent and the Middle East to all Sub-Saharan Africa. The company uses nearly 200 vessels to service 118 ports of call in Africa and continues to see overall volume growth in its container transport services for the continent.

With the continued effects of the global pandemic, long-term options that can deliver now and into the future are essential. Getting the suitable supply chains in place now would pay dividends later should citizens require booster shots and the infrastructure is already in place.

CEVA africa


Why ocean freight works

What makes ocean freight a possible solution? Preserving the integrity of a product is essential for the movement of any pharmaceutical product, especially vaccines, and ocean freight reefer containers are designed to do just that. Supported by highly trained staff who can offer 24/7 expert technical support means greater security from people who understand the industry. Many pharma shippers already prefer ocean over air because of the reduced number of handovers.

CEVA Logistics and CMA CGM transport products according to GDP guidelines and are ISO 9001:2015 certified. Their teams reinforce security with their strict internal procedures to maintain the highest standards in the industry.

CMA CGM is a fully GDP compliant ocean line and a pioneer in the field, being involved in the transportation of various medications all across the globe for more than a decade. The technology used in its reefer units allows CMA CGM to answer an extensive range of needs, from the most standard of medications to highly specific products like blood plasma, which is carried every day in its -30°C reefers on transatlantic and transpacific trades.



The transportation of temperature-sensitive products such as vaccines and insulin at a +2° to +8°C range is also a daily activity for CMA CGM through its tailored pharma Value Added Service, ensuring it can provide a fully compliant service to even the most demanding destinations such as the Arabian Gulf, South East Asia, Latin America or East and West Africa. The further advantage of reefer services is that vaccines that are required to be kept as low as -20˚C can be safely transported at the right temperatures.

Smart reefer containers mean vaccines can be carried at scale in containers and can be temperature and humidity controlled with 24/7, live monitoring, with other technical parameters also possible. The whole process is controlled by a series of strategically located control towers around the world, providing transparency and security to both the manufacturers and the end customers, in this case government or health agencies.

Governments traditionally do not have the experts in place to organize and execute supply chain solutions for pharmaceutical products of any description, let alone vaccines required to be kept at specific temperatures in all circumstances. Instead, they can rely on outside expertise in the global supply chain, and a single-source provider for both the transport of the goods and the final destination delivery is the clear answer.


Reap the benefits in the future

Putting the supply chain in place and having it functioning correctly — safely and efficiently — will reap benefits in the future when vaccine supplies need to be replenished or when new vaccines are required to combat new strains of this or other viruses.

While the first doses of a vaccine into a country will often require the speed of airfreight as the preferred transportation method, careful second dose planning and the potential future booster doses could be transported via ocean freight, reefer solutions. Considering a complementary ocean freight strategy could allow governments to vaccinate their citizens best, while also managing their healthcare budgets.

Embedding logistics into the vaccination process is essential to the success of a program.

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About the Author

Niels van Namen is an experienced Healthcare supply chain professional, entrepreneur and TED speaker. Niels is passionate about Patient-Centric supply chains, improving patient outcomes and making Healthcare affordable and accessible for everyone. He has over 25 years of experience in the healthcare and life science industry and currently leads the global CEVA Healthcare team as the Executive Vice President for the Healthcare Sector.