May 28, 2021

Capacity limitations in vaccine distribution

Now that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout campaign is getting underway around the world, pressure is mounting for the vaccines to be distributed and administered as quickly as possible. The unprecedented demand, specific temperature requirements and air-cargo capacity constraints are just some of the bottlenecks that have affected – and are likely to continue to affect – the vaccine distribution. Here, we highlight how capacity limitations are creating challenges throughout the supply chain, from picking up the vaccines from the manufacturer to delivering them to vaccination locations.

As previously addressed in ‘Why controlling and maintaining product temperature is crucial’, temperature-controlled logistics is imperative for pharma companies to ensure optimal storage and distribution so that the integrity of the medicines can be maintained.

One of the limitations is related to both active and passive packaging. While active packaging is the preferred transportation method, it is more expensive plus it can present return logistics issues, especially in more remote locations. Besides that, if packaging suppliers are approaching the limit of the number of active containers, they have available, it takes time and money to increase the availability. Many pharma companies are therefore turning to passive packaging as an alternative, (single-use) solution. However, although passive packaging is generally a cheaper solution with fewer availability issues, it is more time consuming in terms of unit assembly (including the required gel packs).

Another major capacity limitation is related to air freight. Air travel has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic which has led to a dramatic decline in air cargo capacity. Meanwhile, the need for air-freight capacity for vaccine distribution is growing every day. Needless to say, this is having a huge impact on pricing.

Furthermore, we must realize that Good Distribution Practice (GDP) capabilities are not always in place in less-developed countries. This creates additional challenges to successful vaccine distribution, since extra attention is required to ensure the product integrity.  

Combating these challenges

To combat these capacity challenges, essential factors include open and honest dialogue, communication and an understanding of the importance of getting every detail right. At Yusen Logistics, we are fully committed to our customers and work tirelessly to deliver flexibility combined with reliable, high-quality service. Behind the scenes, we are continually striving to keep our customers’ supply chains running smoothly by optimally managing goods flows and routes in order to ensure the satisfaction of our customers’ customers. 

To make this happen, we are focusing on these key areas every day:

Improving Contingency

To improve contingency planning under rapidly evolving circumstances, real-time visibility depends not only on tracking the on-time status of freight in transit but also on monitoring broader changes, such as air-freight congestion and border closures. Maintaining a responsive approach to logistics management is imperative to rapidly adapt to any situational or environmental changes.

Improving Visibility

Visibility goes beyond knowing where a shipment is. Visibility is also about quality control and the condition of the product, the estimated time of delivery, predicting any potential bottlenecks as well as supporting demand and inventory financial control.

Improving Agility

Besides increasing the visibility, customers and suppliers also need to work together closely in order to improve agility. The ability to react to, communicate and implement changes, with a focus on continuous improvements, calls for cross-functional collaboration and accountability towards internal stakeholders.

Improving Flexibility

Increased flexibility comes from being agile, maintaining full end-to-end visibility and ensuring you have close relationships with key stakeholders as well as contingency plans to be able to respond quickly and effectively to any issues that arise – locally, regionally and globally – using uniform processes. It is also important to ensure that the whole team understands the requirements based on each customer’s needs. This results in a global network working together to deliver the best service possible.

Improving Quality

At Yusen, we have invested in a global Good Distribution Practice (GDP) network fully aligned through a single eQMS (AQua). To ensure our customer shipments are only handled by suitably qualified people, we are continually expanding our pool of GDP-trained experts; a further 120 employees received GDP training in the past month alone.


Moreover, we have invested in systems and tools so that we can exceed our customers’ expectations regarding future vaccine transport:

People – experts who are highly trained and committed to supporting our customers

Validaide – offering full Route Risk Assessments (RRAs)

Packaging Project – Yusen’s selection of preferred packaging providers: qualified and audited

VisionI – real-time GPS and temperature tracking for road freight

Controlant – real-time GPS and temperature tracking for air and sea freight

Yusen Vantage – full end-to-end order management

Control Tower – single point of contact and management


Additionally, we have successfully completed several quality-related projects, including auditing and agreeing SLAs and SOPs with our suppliers and carriers, and a packaging project to audit all preferred packaging suppliers for temperature-controlled shipments. Moreover, we are growing our own GDP infrastructure, as highlighted in our SPOTLIGHT campaign.

We believe we offer a quality-driven solution that can provide a flexible and agile service to mitigate the numerous challenges that you might face. This ensures that your supply chain delivers the best possible service, when it is needed the most.


For more information or to request a quote, please contact Marloes Seesing, Global Head of Healthcare Industry Vertical.