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Covid-19 vaccine: Logistics sector waits for Govt instructions

Mamuni Das New Delhi | Updated on December 28, 2020

A container stacked at the Cargo Terminal 2 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport, which will be used as a Covid-19 coronavirus vaccines handling and distribution center   -  AFP

Transporters want details on capacities that will be needed to assess costs, expand fleet

As India looks to distribute Covid-19 vaccine soon, several logistics companies including TCI Express, OM Logistics, MuDiTa are readying to start transporting the vaccine. The government will be the main distributor for the Covid-19 vaccine, as per early indications.

MuDita Express Cargo, a company that has distributed pulse polio vaccine at minus 20 degrees Celsius for 15 years; and has a tie-up with SpiceJet, expects use of reusable “blast chillers” instead of dry ice (used for oral polio vaccine). The roll-out will be in large volumes, making it difficult to make available large quantity of dry ice in short time, said Amit Gulati, Director, MuDiTa Express Cargo.

“A challenge will be to reach taluka level in quickest time. Once the vaccine is out, everybody would like to be vaccinated at the earliest,” said Chander Agarwal, Managing Director, TCI Express, that has contractual agreements with pharma companies that are engaged in producing vaccines. TCI Express has also tied up several NGOs for transporting vaccines for immunisation. “We have also tied up with government bodies for whom we move temperature-controlled products at 2-8 degrees,” said Agarwal.

That said, companies are waiting for clearer signals. “We are waiting for some contours regarding volume of vaccine, and location-wise demand. This is required to firm up the quantum of investments and costing,” said Akash Bansal, Country Head, OM Logistics, another company that has tied up with SpiceJet .

“We are also investing and readying some vehicles – through a mix of own fleet and attaching dedicated fleet. Our country has 20,000 reefer truck fleet which are not idle. Of those, may be 10-15 per cent will be utilised due to less demand, some of which we will tie up with,” said Bansal

On costs, Bansal said, “Fabricating trucks does not take much time, but it requires investments. A basic truck will cost about ₹ 12-15 lakh. Fabrication to convert a truck to a reefer will cost about ₹ 13 lakh. The ACs have to be self-contained (with back-up power) so that temperature is maintained.” Bansal maintained it will be difficult to specify the logistics costs per vaccine initially, pointing out that the costs will depend on the volume of vaccine transportation.

“Winters, which cover the North and several other parts of India in cold temperature, will make it easier to manage the 2-8 degrees. However, maintaining temperatures in South will be a challenge,” Ambrish Kumar of Zipaworld, told BusinessLine.

The government is readying the CO-WIN software, that allows people interested in getting a vaccine to enroll in the front-end, and enables states to map their cold chain, and vaccine distribution facilities.

“Logistics companies have to look at the return on investment for investment in reefer trucks. Insulating the vaccine carrying trucks in a manner that the same trucks can be used for other purpose would be important to ensure that the logistics cost is lower. India does not have standards for reefer trucks. BIS could look at that. In fact, North America has widely adopted standards for reefer trucks,” said SP Singh, Senior Fellow, IFTRT.

Published on December 28, 2020

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