DP World chief urges UK to immunise port staff to protect global vaccine supply

The move would ensure vital medicine can safely reach everyone, says Sultan bin Sulayem

Vaccinating the World: From Mass Production to Last-Mile Delivery (Option 2)
Geneva - Switzerland, 25-29 January 2021.
Copyright ©️ World Economic Forum/Pascal Bitz

Stanley M. Bergman, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Henry Schein, USA Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, DP World, United Arab Emirates
Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), New York Jacques Vandermeiren, Chief Executive Officer, Antwerp Port Authority, Belgium
Moderated by
James Harding, Co-Founder and Editor, Tortoise Media, United Kingdom
Facilitated by
Margi Van Gogh, Head of Supply Chain and Transport, World Economic Forum
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

DP World chief Sultan bin Sulayem told the World Economic Forum on Friday he had urged the British government to vaccinate frontline port staff to ensure Covid-19 vaccines could safely “reach everyone”.

Mr bin Sulayem, group chairman and chief executive of DP World, which owns two deep water ports in the UK -- DP World Southampton and DP World London Gateway -- said he met with transport minister Grant Shapps via zoom to discuss vaccinating staff working at the ports.

“In the UK, they will only vaccinate people who are elderly and I told them ‘please include us in the ports’" to ensure cargo can still move freely, Mr bin Sulayem told a virtual session at the Forum.

Mr bin Sulayem said it is important to vaccinate those working in supply networks to ensure there is enough security in the system to actually deliver the vaccine.

“When this pandemic came, one of the big issues for us was how we continue to keep our operations open. It was really crucial for us to make sure cargo is moving and so the first thing we did was to comply with every regulation regarding sanitation and wearing masks," he said.

“We adhered to it and we told our people it’s a must … and we managed to do that very well because we did not close.”

Discussing the challenges of distributing the vaccine globally, Mr bin Sulayem said a collaborative effort is key to ensure it reaches developing nations as well as wealthy countries.

“Nine billion vaccines have already been reserved by the wealthy countries. That’s only 14 or 15 per cent of the world’s population,” he said. “For this pandemic we need to make sure it reaches everybody.”

Mr bin Sulayem said the pandemic has made it “difficult to find empty sea containers” for the first time in the industry, with companies across the globe trying to source them to ship the vaccine.

“Even if we have the vaccine for everybody, we cannot distribute it to everybody. It needs a collaborative effort,” he said.

Mr Sulayem said DP World has invested “a lot of money in logistic ability” over the last four years -- in people, companies and facilities -- a move that now makes it the largest operator in the sector in a number of countries, including India, China and the UK.

It has also added to its investments in Africa to ensure developing nations have equal access to the vital medicine.

“What I fear is that many wealthy countries will reserve the vaccines, and it will not be available for other countries,” he said.

“In Africa and Latin America, we have two problems: they cannot afford the vaccine and even if they have the vaccine, it's very difficult to get it to them.”

To ensure people across Africa can access the vaccine, he said DP World has invested in a logistics park in Rwanda so that it can supply Burundi and Malawi, as well as parts of Congo, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

The company plans further parks in countries such as Mali and Chad to ensure they can also store the vaccines at the correct temperature.

His comments come two days after the Dubai ports and logistics company offered free vaccine transport and storage to Unicef, the UN's children's organisation, to help distribute Covid-19 vaccines to low and middle-income countries.

The new partnership – with a multi-million-dollar value – is the largest to date to support Unicef's lead role as part of Covax.

Covax, which comprises 190 countries and the World Health Organisation, is an initiative to promote equitable access to vaccines and deliver two billion doses to countries most in need by the end of 2021.

On Wednesday, Mr bin Sulayem described the vaccine’s distribution process as “humanity's biggest logistics challenge since the end of the Second World War”.