“It was the most incredible period of my thirty-year career,” assures Wes Wheeler. President of UPS Healthcare, a subsidiary of the American carrier UPS, specializing in health, the American looks back on the year 2020 with a certain enthusiasm. The company worked directly with Pfizer to get the doses to vaccination points, both during clinical trials that brought together tens of thousands of participants around the world, and then during the public distribution phase starting in December 2020.
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The company has made significant investments to ensure that the tens of millions of vials transported in its planes and trucks arrive safely. In October 2020, it had built a “command center” in Kentucky (central United States) to track deliveries, as well as a dry ice factory. It also has its own freezer farm (“farm of fridges”) to store vaccines “in case Pfizer runs out of space” in its own facilities, explains Wes Wheeler.
99% on-time deliveries
UPS has also accelerated the implementation of a new tracking technology called “UPS Premier”. This simple label equipped with sensors allowed him to visualize the boxes in transit in the gigantic warehouses of the company and to ship them in priority. “Passing through our buildings is a critical moment. This is where the packages are misplaced, where they fall off the conveyors… This technology has allowed us to save so-called “distressed” packages in our warehouses”, he continues.
Result: deliveries on time in 99% of cases, while distribution was under pressure because of the holidays. “As the crates of bottles were already designed for very low temperatures, we didn’t have to adapt our means of transport. The vaccines passed through the same vehicles as the Christmas gifts! They represented a relatively small volume of our total deliveries. At our peak, we were transporting 40 million doses per week, a far cry from the 25 million packages handled per day around the holidays in 2020,” observes Wes Wheeler.
Donations to poor countries
He regrets that the distribution is not so wide in poor countries. Less than 13% of the African population was fully vaccinated by mid-February. Pfizer and other manufacturers have been accused of prioritizing developed countries.
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For its part, UPS is participating in a drone delivery initiative in remote areas of Africa as part of the international Covax program and has donated storage fridges to several Eastern European, Asian, African and South American countries through its foundation.
“Some countries need the vaccine more than others, due to the age of their population or the prevalence of comorbidities,” explains Julie Swann, professor at North Carolina State University, specialist in medical logistics. “Much more needs to be done to ensure equitable access. »