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In record time, pharmaceutical companies have developed vaccines to protect humanity from the COVID-19 pandemic. How quickly and safely the vaccine doses are actually administered is primarily a question of logistics. Siemens Logistics has answers. The specialist for automation and digital integration offers vaccine manufacturers and logistics service providers IT solutions and top-class consulting able to meet this herculean task.

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The main challenge lies in the transported goods themselves: The mRNA vaccines developed by the manufacturers are extremely temperature-sensitive and place extraordinary demands on transport, handling, storage, and distribution. For the vaccines to be effective, everything must be just right and sync perfectly. For one of the vaccines, this means maintaining the freezing temperature of -70°C without interruption for days on end and across thousands of kilometres.

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There is no case study for this job. Ensuring the efficiency of international vaccine logistics means planning supply chains proactively, identifying potential risks and disruptions to the shipping process early on, and exercising absolute control over the valuable cargo at every second along the way.

Transport and logistics companies that put themselves forward as vaccine distributors must ask themselves honestly: Are we up to the task? Is our logistics network capable of meeting the performance standards that this job requires? Can our IT solution handle the necessary exchange of data?

Every logistics service provider should know at the outset what this commitment means. Because once the supply chain starts moving, the eyes of the world will be watching. Any disruptions or quality issues not only negate the effect of the vaccine; they also significantly delay the goal of mass immunization.

What’s more, supply chains generally link a large number of different companies and subcontractors, each of which handles only one leg of the overall route. But processes designed to deliver mail or packages to any given address, for example, are not necessarily enough when it comes to shipping highly sensitive vaccine serums.

The key lies in an IT infrastructure that enables international collaboration among a variety of partners: vaccine manufacturers, air cargo carriers, airports, ground handling agents, freight forwarders, transport companies, warehouse operators, vaccination centres, medical staff, etc.

This kind of partnership is not about exchanging emails, spreadsheets, or PDF documents. It requires tools that are available right now to plan, manage, and monitor the cross-enterprise, cross-border, end-to-end distribution of vaccines. Such a solution must also provide all parties involved with real-time visibility of the processes. Because even if logistics companies will be given a lot of freedom for distribution of the vaccine, nobody has any time for mistakes and misunderstandings in the months ahead.

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Those who prefer not to leave anything to chance will want first to put their vaccine distribution logistics to the test. IT tools from Siemens Logistics offer a no-risk option under real-life conditions. Simulation tools such as the Digital Twin or Supply Chain Suite are ready to go today. Both the simulation and the IT solution offer a holistic, data-driven view of the supply chain.

Such tools let you simulate every conceivable supply chain scenario: What happens if there are volume fluctuations in vaccine production if production sites go offline if airlines can’t handle the excess capacity? The simulation shows how events affect the entire supply chain and which options are available under any given supply chain conditions.

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Siemens Digital Logistics
Winning the race against time: the infrastructure for global vaccine distribution

Time is a scarce commodity in the fight against the pandemic. mRNA vaccine doses have to be injected within a short period of time to ensure they do not lose their efficacy. What’s more, the vaccine requires two inoculations within 28 days to deliver full protection. So moving everything from point A to point B is just one small part of the logistical challenge.

The only way to pull this off is to completely monitor the production-to-vaccination supply chain and schedule distribution times with absolute certainty. When will the batches be ready for pickup? What are air cargo capacities needed? Do the airports have adequate temporary storage facilities available?

None of this works without a data hub that consolidates validates and shares the transport-relevant data of the service partners involved. In logistics, this role is assumed by proven IT platforms like AX4, the cloud solution from Siemens Digital Logistics that integrates all the applications critical to smooth supply chain collaboration and optimal cargo flow.

In many cases, AX4 serves as a control tower, taking on a key role critical to successful vaccine distribution. The control tower allows just-in-time management of time-sensitive deliveries and early detection of any deviations from the scheduled delivery date. A major logistics hubs, this role is covered by the integrated Appointment and Dock Management, an online booking system that can organize vaccine shipments arriving at international airports and the logistics at the airports themselves. AX4 also supports the continuous monitoring of cold chains.

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For COVID-19 vaccines to achieve the more than 90% efficacy, they promise, the logistics need to run at 100%. Continuous temperature monitoring is an absolute must-have. Real-Time Condition Monitoring is a cloud-based solution from Siemens Logistics that delivers visibility and end-to-end, real-time supply chain monitoring. The system sounds the alarm whenever there is any threat of deviations or disruptions in the supply chain, giving you the time you need to take action to protect the vaccine doses.

The solution goes far beyond the usual temperature protocol that is indispensable whenever temperature-controlled goods are shipped. Special sensors of the kind widely used in this field record the temperature inside each cooler and transmit their measurements instantaneously to the central IT platform. This means that the logistics specialists can keep an eye on the vaccine doses from start to finish throughout the supply chain—essential to ensuring the quality of the shipment.

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Traffic jams and long lines of people in front of test centres are part of the iconic imagery of the coronavirus pandemic. But while cotton swabs are patient, vaccination serums are not. Here, patient flows must be synchronized with the number of vaccine doses, personnel, and rooms available at the vaccine centres.

Appointment Management from Siemens Logistics makes it much easier to plan and coordinate mass vaccination by allowing vaccination centres to scale their capacities to the volumes and delivery times promised by the manufacturers.

Worldwide healthcare IT and logistics solutions from Siemens Logistics 

Concerted action calls for an integrated approach: Siemens avoids standalone solutions, relying instead on an end-to-end approach to vaccine distribution using established, cloud-based logistics IT solutions to cope with the pandemic. For the stakeholder groups of governments, pharmaceutical manufacturers, logistics providers, and their service partners, the benefits couldn’t be clearer: quick and easy access from anywhere in the world to all the tools needed to manage and monitor the supply chain, including mobile access. All the apps needed for this unique situation are already available and ready to go. Enjoy cross-enterprise, cross-border control of all processes with unparalleled visibility – from production to transport to the administration of the vaccine.

Disclaimer: I am the author at PLM ECOSYSTEM, focusing on developing digital-thread platforms with capabilities across CAD, CAM, CAE, PLM, ERP, and IT systems to manage the product data lifecycle and connect various industry networks. My opinions may be biased. Articles and thoughts on PLMES represent solely the author's views and not necessarily those of the company. Reviews and mentions do not imply endorsement or recommendations for purchase.

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