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Seamless vaccine distribution takes robust medical supply chains and healthcare expertise

With the world waiting for 10 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021, transportation has become a critical component of the global immunization campaign. So how can we provide seamless life sciences logistics?

1 billion doses and counting

The world has overcome a lot since the pandemic began. In the face of many challenges, we have learned to adapt and find new solutions. COVID-19 is the largest global health crisis in a century, and it has taken a global effort to get where we are today.

Since the worldwide vaccine distribution campaign began in December 2020, DHL has safely delivered over one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to more than 160 countries. This milestone has involved over 350 DHL facilities and countless colleagues. We’re immensely proud of the people and capabilities we have worldwide to do our part and play a vital role in the global roll-out.

Watch and see how we are supporting the global vaccine distribution campaign.

Vaccine distribution requires managing multiple supply chain setups

The global vaccination campaign represents a crucial instrument in the fight against the COVID-19, and it is essential for containing further virus variants. To reach high immunization levels, around 10 billion vaccine doses will be required worldwide by the end of 2021. Manufacturer forecasts indicate that the world is on track to meet that target. But we need to ensure these doses reach as many people as possible.

This is a complex undertaking that goes beyond simply shipping pallets of tiny glass vials around the world. The transportation requirements of each vaccine vary widely. For example, the required temperature-controlled environments range from -70°C to 8°C. These diverse conditions mean we need to manage multiple supply chain setups to ensure the right conditions are maintained seamlessly from the production line to the shot in the arm.

1 bn

vaccine doses delivered by DHL (as of mid-September 2021)


countries have received vaccine doses delivered by DHL (as of mid-September 2021)


DHL facilities across a worldwide medical supply chain network

Luckily, even before the pandemic, we had a sophisticated network and healthcare experts in place. In 2020, we mobilized this team and leveraged our capabilities. We quickly brought new, dedicated services online to safely ship high volumes of highly temperature-sensitive vaccines, along with additional materials, like syringes, bandages, and saline solution. In addition, we introduced state-of-the-art GPS temperature trackers into the vaccine supply chain to monitor conditions in each shipment. We also pack everything with dry ice in special active thermal containers to ensure these incredibly fragile vaccines arrive safely.

For months now, we’ve been working across multiple supply chain setups and managing direct distributions in some counties, utilizing our expertise across all aspects of logistics. DHL Global Forwarding and DHL Express transport COVID-19 vaccines on multiple routes from Europe and other origins to countries across Asia Pacific, South America, and Europe. DHL Supply Chain is responsible for the proper storage and local distribution of the vaccines in several German states.

Vaccine distribution means being prepared for the future

We're facing the worst global health crisis in 100 years - vaccination is key to fighting Covid-19.

Our job will not be over once the 10th billion dose is distributed. It’s estimated that another 7-9 billion vaccine doses will be needed annually in the coming years to keep (re)-infection rates low and to slow the pace of virus mutations – not counting seasonal fluctuations. That’s why we need to maintain the logistics infrastructure and capacity built up for the pandemic.

We have learned so much since the pandemic began. We know what we need to be ready for future global health crises. Identifying and preventing health crises is essential. And to do that, we need active partnerships, expanded global warning systems, an integrated epidemic prevention plan, and targeted R&D investments. 

We also recommend expanding and institutionalizing virus containment and countermeasures (e.g., digital contact tracing and national stockpiles) to ensure strategic preparedness and more efficient response times. To facilitate a speedy roll-out of medication (i.e., diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines), governments and industries should maintain “ever-warm” manufacturing capacity, blueprint research, production, and procurement plans, and expand local deployment capabilities.

Find more insights into what we’ve learned and how to be ready for the next crisis in our white paper – Revisiting Pandemic Resilience.

White Paper: Revisiting Pandemic Resilience

The race against the virus: What we’ve learned one year into COVID-19 and how the world’s healthcare supply chains will be ready for the next public health emergency.

Published: September 2021

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