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Distributors say final mile supply points are hindering the tempo of Covid vaccine adoption

The race to get safe and effective coronavirus vaccinations has been hampered by logistical issues related to last mile delivery, according to executives at two companies helping with vaccination distribution.

The mass introduction of vaccines is considered to be the greatest logistical challenge the world has ever seen. From policy makers to manufacturers grappling with issues related to cost, transportation, distribution, and fair access.

Vaccine developers have estimated that it will be possible to produce enough doses for more than a third of the world’s population by the end of 2021. While many high-income countries have begun dosing, others have been left behind.

“I said from the start that it will not be a global logistics problem, it will be a problem of the last mile (delivery) from our warehouses to doctors or whoever because it is difficult to move products at minus 70 degrees.” Deutsche Post DHL CEO Frank Appel told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Tuesday.

“And of course it’s also difficult to scale the capacity so quickly because nobody knew which vaccine would work,” said Appel.

The freight will be loaded onto a Lufthansa Cargo aircraft on November 25, 2020 at Frankfurt Airport in Frankfurt am Main.

THOMAS LOHNES | AFP | Getty Images

His comments on transporting vaccines in ultra-cold temperatures allegedly referred to the Covid vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which must be stored at a temperature of around minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit) and requires special storage facilities and transportation.

Many other safe and effective Covid vaccines do not require ultra-cold storage during distribution.

Appel said Deutsche Post DHL was “well prepared” to deliver Covid vaccines in the coming months, as more than 50 flights with shipments within Europe and elsewhere have already been carried out.

“There will be no bottleneck in the air freight industry.”

Dorothea von Boxberg, member of the executive board and chief commercial officer at Lufthansa Cargo, said on Tuesday that the air freight industry will be ready to deliver Covid vaccines during an expected surge in global demand later this year.

“The industry is prepared. There will be no bottleneck in the air freight department to deliver the vaccines. I think we are there,” said von Boxberg via video conference at the Davos Agenda summit.

She told CNBC’s Julianna Tatelbaum that “every freighter is in the air every time it can,” after acknowledging the aviation industry had been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

When asked about the main issues hindering a faster roll-out of Covid vaccines, von Boxberg said it was about vaccine availability and last mile delivery.

“You not only need the vaccine, but also the patient, the doctor, additional material like syringes. So it is a great logistical effort to get everything in order and also to maintain the cold chain at the same time for the vaccines,” said von Boxberg .

The United Nations said last week it is working “around the clock” with governments to ensure countries are ready to receive Covid vaccines in the coming weeks. This means working with airlines and freight and logistics service providers “to ensure safe and on-time delivery”.

It is hoped that the mass rollout of Covid vaccines could help end the coronavirus pandemic that killed more than 2.1 million people worldwide.

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