Monday, December 14, 2020
By Eric Skiba
As of this writing, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to green-light distribution
of the first COVID-19 vaccine at any time. That’s good news for a country that is in desperate need of a break.
Now the pressure is on stakeholders up and down the supply chain to deliver, and all eyes are once again on America’s truck drivers. The trucking industry is just one of many cogs in the Operation Warp Speed
initiative. But as the most visible component, truck drivers and carriers will likely become the public face of the distribution effort. After all, they are responsible for the final leg of the vaccine’s journey.
Developments related to COVID-19 vaccine distribution are moving quickly. Here’s our take on how state administrators can best support the trucking industry—and how carriers and freight agents can best prepare for this historic moment.
Count Truck Drivers as Essential Workers for Vaccine Administration
On Dec. 1, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) agreed by a near-unanimous vote
that healthcare workers and nursing home residents should be the first to receive the vaccine. Healthcare workers are the vanguard in the fight against the coronavirus. Long-term care residents are among the most vulnerable. Vaccinating both groups could significantly decrease suffering and death.
The ACIP has not made a recommendation about which populations should be next in line. We believe that truck drivers should be included in the second wave of vaccine deployment. Truck drivers are not only essential to keep our country moving forward. They are also vital to vaccine distribution itself. If drivers are out sick with COVID-19, it will increase the pressure on a system that is already bursting at the seams.
The Department of Transportation recently expanded
its nationwide exemption for hours-of-service regulations for trucking companies and drivers. The exemption applies in part to those who are providing direct emergency assistance for vaccine transportation. We hope the ACIP and state leaders will recognize that truck drivers should have ready access to the vaccine should they want to take it.
Freight Agents and Carriers Will Need to Be Nimble
Yes, contracts to haul the first run of vaccines have already been negotiated with strategic transportation partners. However, a rollout of this magnitude could create opportunities across the board. After all, we could be looking at multiple manufacturers releasing vaccine doses in waves well into 2021.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first to likely receive FDA approval, requires a highly specialized refrigeration system. The vaccine’s storage requirements of -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit) will lock many carriers out of this distribution plan. However, as reported in Overdrive, recent innovations in refrigeration systems may allow for these vaccines to be transported by dry vans or straight trucks.
Vaccines manufactured by the other two frontrunners, Moderna and AstraZeneca, can be kept at refrigerated temperatures for a set period of time. As a result, the distribution effort could be opened up to more carriers and brokers that have an adequate fleet of reefer trucks. This could require carriers to move quickly or think creatively to take part in the effort.
Carriers that are not transporting actual vaccine vials could still fulfill high demand for ancillary products, such as syringes, cotton swabs, and latex gloves. Getting supplies like these to the front lines will be a high priority. This could help drive new business for carriers that have the right relationships in place.
On Call and Ready to Go at Nationwide
The rapid pace of COVID-19 vaccine development is without precedent. And while we all breathe a sigh of relief, the industry must still grapple with a number of questions. How will smaller fleets fit into the deployment plan? Will vaccine distribution lead to a shortage of other goods as carriers and trucks are diverted to higher priority shipments? And, most important, what other ripple effects will we see from rapid deployment that we haven’t yet anticipated?
It’s too soon to say what kind of pressure high-volume distribution will put on a system that is already at capacity. At Nationwide Logistics, we are running through different scenarios to make sure all our systems are ready for whatever comes our way. Our agents are primed to handle increased demand. And we have the ability to set up more reefer carriers as needed.
The trucking industry is standing on the cusp of history. We are on call, ready to support carriers and drivers as they roll out our best hope of beating the coronavirus pandemic.
To learn more about how Nationwide Logistics can set you up for success, visit nationwidelogistics.net