With the COVID-19 vaccines starting to arrive in many countries, the world urgently needs to confront any barriers that can delay their arrival across a planet weary of lockdowns and desperate to end the pandemic’s toll. Almost a year ago, the world was struggling to import enough masks and other protective gear to properly equip healthcare workers. Yet today many countries still have not reviewed their customs and border processes to ensure there are no obstacles to vaccine imports, as well as shipments of syringes, rapid test kits, and other equipment vital to ending the pandemic.
What’s needed is expertise in knowing where bottlenecks exist and how best to permanently dismantle them to get the vaccines to people in all countries. In ASEAN, the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation and the US-ASEAN Business Council (USABC) are drawing on the strengths of their business networks and partners, as well as the Alliance’s technical expertise, to help navigate vaccines and key support materials through import processes as fast as possible. The immediate challenge is that supply chain complexities will multiply with the rise in both the number of suppliers and shipment volumes. Solid preparation is critical to ensure that the scaling of this worldwide effort is not hampered by challenges that could have been seen in advance.
The focus needs to quickly shift from only vaccine procurement to ensuring a robust but streamlined supply chain for vaccines, which are extremely time sensitive and require careful handling. This means developing procedures to ensure seamless border clearances yet taking measures to protect the public against counterfeits.
In short, close collaboration between governments and the companies handling vaccine logistics is critical, which is why the Alliance and USABC have created a three-stage, fully–funded project to help developing countries in ASEAN partner with companies to uncover problems and test new solutions.
THREE STEPS TO FASTER COVID-19 VACCINE SHIPMENTS
1. In-country assessment of import processes by engaging with public and private sector stakeholders among the extensive regional networks of the Alliance and USABC. This gives a snapshot of the prevailing processes when importing a vaccine into an ASEAN country, and the opportunities to improve.
2. Tabletop test to map the barriers impeding delivery of vaccines to virtually test shipment and importation processes as part of preparations for COVID-19 vaccination supply. This will include verifying the resilience of the process when subject to unexpected incidents.
3. Physical test run using a “dummy” shipment made from a manufacturer country to a recipient ASEAN country. This tests whether border processes and the cold chain meets the requirements of the COVID-19 vaccine.