Pharmaceutical supply chains are about to face their biggest security challenge for a generation as the world prepares for life-changing deliveries of Covid vaccines, says the Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA).
In a statement, TAPA said with over 50 million confirmed cases of the virus still being treated and the tragic loss of more than 1.2 million lives, the world is eagerly awaiting the vaccine — with an estimated 7-19 billion doses needed globally.
“Ensuring the secure storage, transportation and delivery of every pharmaceutical shipment is of paramount importance to the healthcare industry to ensure patient safety," said Thorsten Neumann, president & CEO of TAPA’s Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) region.
He added that in terms of cargo security, the true cost of loss of a pharma cargo has been estimated to be between 5-7x the value of the product because of the domino effect it creates.
Biggest supply chain security challenge
Product losses are clearly the biggest threat but contamination of pharma cargoes during a cargo crime – even if they are not actually stolen – can be just as damaging, Neumann warned.
With vaccine deliveries expected to begin as early as next month, the focus of all supply chain security stakeholders will be to avoid any disruption to the delivery process and to protect the integrity of vaccines on their way to patients.
“In terms of world health, the COVID vaccine represents the biggest supply chain security challenge of our generation because so much is expected from both a public health and economic perspective,” he said.
The TAPA executive noted, however, that companies must leave "no stone unturned" in assessing the associated cargo security risks and requirements on a country-by-country basis because the threat of cargo theft is never far away.
Vaccine a target of cargo theft
“With a black market controlled by supply and demand, Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) will be very aware of the value of doses of the vaccine and are highly likely to be looking for ways to intercept supply chains to steal shipments, especially with such high volumes being distributed within a short timescale,” Neumann said.
If such losses do arise, the impact on the global community will be much more far-reaching than the theft of a single shipment of vaccines.
“As we have already seen this year with the high number of thefts of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from supply chains, cargo thieves are very active in targeting Covid-related products so, as an industry, we must be ready,” Neumann said.
He added that based on cargo crime data already shows that even with the best efforts of industry, facilities storing and trucks delivering pharmaceuticals are targets for violent attacks, hijackings and robberies.
“This is why we expect to see an unprecedented supply chain security programme in place to protect deliveries of Covid vaccines which may include the use of armed escorts, additional truck security and driving in secure convoys, depending on the level of risk in each geography. Some countries may even be considering military support to ensure vaccine deliveries are not delayed in any way,” he added.