Shining a light on COVID-19 vaccine supply chains

  • Delivering vaccines to a large percentage of the global population is a Herculean task. The more vaccines that receive regulatory approval, the more complex the logistics.
  • Total vaccine costs will be surpassed by current GDP losses in an estimated 9 days and 4 days in the US and Europe, respectively.
  • The availability of the vaccine, syringes, and even personal protective equipment (PPE) must also be synchronized.
  • Four action steps are recommended for a successful implementation.


  • The overall costs of the vaccine will be relatively low vis-à-vis the toll of the virus on the global economy-and the supply chain costs will represent just a fraction of the total.
  • The air freight capacity is in place.
  • The cold chain requirements can be met through existing dry ice production for the vaccines that need it, and new container solutions have been specially developed.
  • In addition, key stakeholders along the vaccine supply chain already have the experience to take on the issues and have formed contingency plans.

An Increasingly Complex Supply Chain

Dedicated Manufacturing Capacity

  • no delays in starting vaccine production,
  • no major quality problems, and
  • very limited vaccine waste.

Cold Chain Requirements

Transport Capacity

  • For example, companies may use a hub-and-spoke model, with central stock keeping in specially equipped warehouses to ensure greater control, and distribution dictated by demand.
  • Others may choose point-to-point delivery, with some cooling and freezing infrastructure in place at the vaccination centers, but no intermediate storage.
  • A third variation is that of a fully state-run program such as Operation Warp Speed, which will utilize the US military’s coordination capabilities and a large distributor, McKesson, to aid distribution.

Delivery Costs

  • Operation Warp Speed in the US will take advantage of the support and capacities of the US military in this area as well.
  • The European Union, in turn, has contracted volumes of vaccines for its member states, but supply and logistics will be supported on a national level.
  • China and Russia have both funded state-led research and development to manufacture and supply their own vaccines, with further options to offer their vaccines to other countries.
  • Adding to this complexity, the COVAX Facility-an alliance supporting the research, development, and manufacturing of vaccine candidates-and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), as well as private foundations such as the Gates Foundation, will play an essential role in distributing a supply of vaccines to relatively small and less wealthy countries.
  • GDP losses are estimated to have reached $4.1 billion per day in Europe
  • and $3.7 billion per day in the US as of October 7, 2020
  • equaling 12% and 25% of total EU and US vaccine costs, respectively. (The difference appears because the EU, as a collective of nations, is expected to need twice as many vaccines as the US).
  • In other words, total vaccine costs will be surpassed by current GDP losses in an estimated 9 days and 4 days in the US and Europe, respectively.

Point of Delivery

  • Pfizer’s vaccine, for example, may be limited to centralized distribution in urban centers due to its cold-chain requirements,
  • while Moderna’s vaccine may be more suitable to broader and decentralized distribution.
  • Other vaccine candidates from companies such as Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and Novavax, in turn, have less-sensitive cooling requirements and may be suitable for broader and more rural deployment.
  • to administer each type of vaccine correctly,
  • to monitor which person received which vaccine if the center gives out more than one type,
  • and to track the vaccinations of individuals in order to schedule potential booster shots correctly.
  • Material procurement will be critical to a successful vaccination campaign. Yet experiences in previous pandemics, including Ebola, SARS, and MERS, show that logistics companies have the capabilities and the knowledge in place to address these challenges, despite the seemingly unprecedented scale of the current pandemic.
  • Manufacturers have already put in place contingency plans to stock extra materials, and glass manufacturers such as Corning and Schott have begun preparing the necessary supplies of vials and syringes, which must be coordinated with evolving vaccine production to ensure that they are available at the right time and place.

Action Steps

  1. Developers and government authorities should mitigate the long-term safety concerns generated by rapid vaccine approval by pushing for the highest levels of data transparency and working to increase the lessons learned along the way.
  2. Manufacturers that do not have a vaccine approved by the first quarter of 2021 should consider supporting those candidates that do have a successful early rollout in launching their vaccine even more quickly
  3. Logistics companies should collaborate to establish a chain of custody and end-to-end supply chain transparency in order to guarantee uninterrupted cold chains and minimize losses.
  4. Authorities, manufacturers, and logistic companies should determine how best to ensure that their vaccination campaigns are not bottlenecked by a lack of medical material supply, such as syringes and personal protective equipment.



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Joaquim Cardoso @ BCG

Joaquim Cardoso @ BCG


Senior Advisor for Health Care Strategy to BCG — Boston Consulting Group