If the nation during the coronavirus pandemic were a battlefield, truckers would be the front line infantry, going out into the field to give people the supplies they need to either stay healthy (sanitizers and face masks), or to stay quarantined (food and entertainment supplies). With two different COVID-19 vaccines both showing a minimum 90% efficacy rate, it may be up to truckers to haul millions of doses across the country. Are the nation’s truckers up for the challenge?
The Logistics of Logistics
The single hardest problem with shipping the coronavirus vaccines is that both require an extremely low temperature to maintain their potency. We are not talking about standard reefer trailers, some vaccines need to have temperatures below -70 Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit). The vaccine coming in the dead of winter helps slow down heating via the laws of physics, but -70 Celsius is typically a temperature reserved for the northernmost parts of Russia, not the sunny, tropical weather of Florida or barely freezing temperatures of Virginia winter.
But it is not all doom and gloom, Pfizer, a developer of one such vaccine, says it has special insulation packages for the vaccine that allows it to stay around -70 Celsius for longer. A reefer supplier, Carrier Transicold, says that these insulation packages should be able to stay at -70 Celsius for long enough to be shipped across state lines, provided the surrounding air is -30 Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit). This is still an absurdly low temperature, but it is progress.
Carrier Transicold has joined forces with alert technology firm Sensitech to develop what it calls Carrier Pods, which it hopes will better help standard reefers reach and maintain the -30 Celsius requirement. It has temperature control within half a degree Fahrenheit and can alert the driver and other of alerts when something goes wrong and the temperature of cargo is rising above acceptable levels, allowing the driver and potential helpers to make an emergency transition to save vaccine potency if needed.
Beyond shipping to distribution centers, there is also the important question of transporting in the final mile, to clinics, pharmacies, and other places where the COVID-19 vaccine will enter its patient. A smaller space for loads means it will be easier to cool, but with Carrier Pods intended for large-sale shipments, it may take some crafty solutions to keep vaccines potent on the last leg of the journey.
Whatever the solution is for keeping the vaccines as cold as possible, the fact they need to stay below freezing means that demand for reefer trailers is going to rise by a lot. With demand exceeding supplied space, the government may have to interfere and halt supply chains for other items that are handled by refrigerated trailers, such as strawberries, until enough vaccines are distributed.
It is an interesting prospect that truckers may deliver the final blow to COVID-19, but no matter the result of the vaccine, truckers have always been out and about in the country making sure everyone else has the means to survive through this ordeal. For that, we as a nation salute you all.