Private companies with experience of delivering perishable goods to remote locations could step in to ease logistical challenges facing vaccine distribution around the world.
Logistic experts speaking at the Hope Consortium virtual conference called on established businesses to aid the last-mile of delivery of doses in remote corners of Africa and Asia.
Cold-chain storage and delivery is one of the pressing concerns preventing vaccines from reaching isolated communities, as they must be kept in refrigerated temperatures on leaving production plants.
“The first challenges is to get doses into the countries,” said Dr Pascal Rey-Herme, co-founder and group medical director of International SOS, a leading health and security services company.
“When you have pharma companies and others established in nations that have been distributing vaccines for 40 years, they are the best ones to develop a covid supply chain.
“But as we are in a time of crisis, governments should also look at less obvious support.
“Firms delivering perishable goods to remote areas have a lot of experience in this, such as soft drink manufacturers.
“They should also be able to help with the logistical challenges of delivering vaccines.
“It would not overload government infrastructure, and would help deal with issues of waste and vaccine confidence.”
Dr Rey-Herme said examples of private companies adding mosquito nets to their regular delivery load of everyday items helped governments reach more communities in the battle against malaria.
Since 2004, 2 billion mosquito nets have been delivered world-wide using a mix of government and private logistic chains.
That infrastructure should now be replicated to aid the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines, the experts said.
Humanitarian efforts to deploy shipments of Covid-19 vaccines around the region are well underway, with millions of doses already committed and dispatched.
But accessibility remains an issue in large swathes of Africa and Asia.
Madhav Kurup, regional chief executive of Hellmann Worldwide Logistics - a German firm specialising in deliveries by air, sea, road and rail, said the UAE was perfectly placed to aid the global supply of vaccines.
“We are aware of accessibility of Covid vaccines in south Asian countries,” he said.
“Because of its geographic location the UAE can play an important role in the delivery chain process for vaccines.
“The UAE has a major role to play to deliver vaccines from India, the pharmacy of the world, to where they are most needed."
“The new challenge is capacity and compliance.
“Planning the right level of quantity with the high level of vaccine hesitancy around the world is a challenge to ensure the vaccines are not falling into the wrong hands.
“No one is safe until everyone is safe."