Covid-19: The challenge of vaccinating the world

covid-19 vaccine

The demand for the vaccine is becoming clearer. It appears that nations with large production facilities on their territory will fare better than those without. Although the situation is dynamic, changing weekly, it appears there is a clear structure that has emerged over the first few months of 2021. There are several countries with advanced vaccination operations of size and sufficient transparency to make observations about logistics.

The UK

The UK was the earliest in the West to approve vaccines and is well-placed to access the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The UK has embarked on a large and rapid campaign, choosing to use its highly centralised health system which, although slow initially, has provided considerable capacity in terms of vaccination centres and an ability to ramp up supply. By January 23, 2021, 6.8m doses had been administered, ten doses per 100 population.

Still, the vaccination programme has presented several challenges, including issues regarding the production cycle of bio-reactors. Additionally, the system used is not as agile as initially anticipated. Critical hard-to-reach groups such as ‘house-bound’ people over 80 years saw just 50% coverage by mid-January.


Israel has embarked on an aggressive centrally planned, centrally controlled plan of vaccination with an emphasis on fewer, larger vaccination centres. Israel does not have a production facility within its borders and has solely relied on the Pfizer/ BioNtech vaccine to provide 42 doses per 100 population by January 24, 2021. There are suggestions that the country will run out of vaccines sometime in February. However, it was effective in procuring a significant volume in December, despite not producing the vaccine within its borders.

The success of the roll-out of the vaccine is primarily attributed to advance access to the vaccine. However, there are some setbacks. Notably, the use of larger sites can mean less agility, with harder to reach groups, such as the elderly finding access to vaccination sites challenging.

The US

Although the US has a fragmented healthcare system, both in terms of healthcare providers and the organisation at State – as opposed to Federal – level, it has been relatively successful in terms of the volume of vaccinations it has distributed. By the first few weeks of January, the US had given doses totalling 20.5m (as of January 23, 2021), representing 6.2 doses per 100 population.

The US has a major advantage in terms of access to production. It dominates access to the Pfizer/ BioNtech vaccine with production from the Pfizer Kalamazoo facility predominantly serving US needs. The Federal government has also negotiated access to the Moderna vaccine which has a production facility in New Hampshire as well as one in Switzerland. If the US authorities approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, this can be supplied from the AstraZeneca facility in Maryland, while the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine will also be supplied from the US.

However, despite being the largest vaccinator, the criteria for vaccine deployment varies between states and it is unclear whether the various approaches are effective at reaching priority groups.

COVID-19 will be with the world for much of 2021 and beyond. The tools to combat the pandemic are substantial. However, the logistics of production and deployment remain problematic. The three case studies highlight that the actual logistics of vaccines is not overly difficult. Instead, the issue lies within the healthcare structures that are not orientated towards such operations, despite being familiar with other vaccination activities.

Source: Transport Intelligence, February 4, 2021

Author: Transport Intelligence

This brief has been taken from a larger paper, ‘Covid-19: The Challenge of Vaccinating the World’ written by Ti Insight’s Chief Analyst, Thomas Cullen. This paper is available exclusively to GSCi subscribers. Each week, Ti’s team of senior analysts and industry experts deliver analysis covering the latest logistics and supply chain trends exclusively to users of GSCi.