When COVID-19 vaccines started receiving emergency approval at the end of 2020, it seemed a sure bet that vaccines would be readily available to the most vulnerable U.S. citizens by January 2021. Unfortunately, supply chain hiccups ultimately hampered the success of early distribution efforts.

As the Biden administration strives to implement better federal oversight to stick to a promise of administering 100 million vaccines in its first 100 days, it is becoming clear that federal and state governments will need significant assistance from the private supply chain sector to achieve that goal.

The Private Sector Steps Up

Logistics and supply chain leaders have stood tall in the face of adversity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. As vaccine distribution efforts struggle to find their feet, the private sector has stepped up to offer support in numerous ways. Here are some examples:

  • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are moving almost exclusively via UPS and FedEx, with DHL also in the mix in some areas. Even in the face of the 2020 holiday peak season, the two parcel carriers dedicated significant resources to the vaccine distribution effort.
  • In response to the cold storage shortage that continues to beleaguer the vaccine supply chain, the Dippin’ Dots ice cream brand has begun selling special ultracold freezers to the U.S. government for COVID-19 vaccine storage.
  • Costco, Starbucks, and Microsoft have all pledged key logistics expertise to public health agencies in Washington state.
  • Amazon offered its sizeable resources to help the Biden administration get coronavirus vaccines distributed across the country.
  • Numerous pharmacy chains and expansive private healthcare networks have partnered with government agencies to act as distribution sites.

Can the Private Sector Do More?

The current vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have stringent temperature control needs, making it difficult to effectively ship them through normal vaccine distribution channels. The supply chain for the vaccine is relatively narrow to date, and cold chain problems are at the forefront of distribution challenges. Here’s what the logistics sector can do to help:

  • Bolster the cold chain. Owners and operators of ultracold storage facilities should reach out to state and local public health agencies, clinics, hospitals, and/or pharmacies to make them aware of any available storage capacity capable of safely storing the vaccine. This sort of support will be especially useful in or near rural hospitals that can’t effectively store the vaccine on their own.
  • Provide technology support. While UPS, FedEx, Pfizer, and Moderna certainly have their own technology, logistics technology providers can bolster traceability in the vaccine supply chain by offering visibility support to healthcare providers, pharmacies, and federal, state, and local health agencies. These entities tend to lag in technology adoption and may not have effective logistics technology in place. Enabling more effective vaccine tracking throughout the chain of custody will guarantee better vaccine safety and viability, while supply chain control tower technology at vaccination sites can streamline deliveries to make sure vaccines are available at patient appointments.
  • Ancillary support. There is still a role for shippers, procurement teams, 3PLs, and other logistics stakeholders that don’t have the right capabilities to help with the vaccine directly. Most public health agencies and healthcare networks continue to struggle with massive shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other critical medical devices. Helping to source and transport critical PPE, needles and syringes, and other vaccine-related medical gear is nearly as essential as moving the vaccine itself.

Corporate America has spent the better part of the past year developing and implementing strategies to bolster the resilience of supply chains. The vaccine supply chain can no doubt benefit from the lessons learned by the private sector during these challenging times.

About Phoenix Investors

Founded by Frank P. Crivello in 1994, Phoenix Investors and its affiliates (collectively “Phoenix”) are a leader in the acquisition, development, renovation, and repositioning of industrial facilities throughout the United States. Utilizing a disciplined investment approach and successful partnerships with institutional capital sources, corporations and public stakeholders, Phoenix has developed a proven track record of generating superior risk adjusted returns, while providing cost-efficient lease rates for its growing portfolio of national tenants. Its efforts inspire and drive the transformation and reinvigoration of the economic engines in the communities it serves. Phoenix continues to be defined by thoughtful relationships, sophisticated investment tools, cost efficient solutions, and a reputation for success.

Frank P. Crivello is a Milwaukee-based developer and Chairman & Founder of Phoenix Investors.