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Risks of COVID-19 vaccine transport and how to deal with them

Risks of COVID-19 vaccine transport and how to deal with them
COVID-19 vaccine transportation requires the highest level of security because of its value. Here we explore the threats and how to deal with them.
2021 will be the year when countries and companies race against time to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to every nook and corner of the world. This is a herculean task, even the mere thought of which may give nightmares to the planners. Several companies are making vaccines for COVID-19, and most of them require cold storage facilities. Some, like the Pfizer vaccine, need ultralow cold storage facilities.

Besides organizing the logistics, companies and authorities also have to worry about the vaccine's security. Being a high-value asset in the current scenario, theft or destruction is a concern that needs to be addressed. We have already seen signs of such issues happening when the Moderna vaccine vials were stolen from Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee last month.

This article explores the potential threats to COVID-19 vaccine transport and how authorities must deal with them.

Also read: what will you do with COVID-19 security devices after the pandemic?

Potential threats to COVID-19 vaccine transport

covid vaccine transport security
Verghese Thirumala
CEO, Maxitulin
According to Verghese Thirumala, CEO of Maxitulin, the primary threat in the first phase of vaccine distribution is terror attacks. This is because, in most countries, the first phase is managed by the government, which would limit the possibility of a black market developing. Terrorists can target vaccine transportation or storage areas to attack with devastating effects.

"In most cases, the possibility of an attack is the highest at last mile of delivery," Thirumala said. "Normally, the vaccines would be moved from a manufacturing facility to the departure airport from where it goes to the destination airport and then to the distribution centers. From the distribution centers, the vaccines then start spreading out. If you look at the history, between Nov 2019 and Nov 2020, 58 cases of pharmaceutical thefts have been reported by Transported Assets Protection Association (TAPA)."

Certain countries Mexico, Brazil, India, Italy, Russia, and the US, are known for pharmaceutical-related threats, which may be a factor to consider when dealing with COVID-19 vaccines.

"The other challenge I notice is that there is already a surge of e-commerce business during the lockdowns, and logistic workers are already stressed," Thirumala said. "When they are stressed, the security at sites like warehouses may not be as alert as they need to be. Most of the time, a breach happens during weekends or on Fridays when everybody is more relaxed, or when they're trying to push out as much cargo as possible before the closing of the working day."

Such threats are not limited to the vaccine alone. There is also an increase in demand for syringes and all those materials related to vaccination. Those are also areas that black market syndicates may try to steal because those are easy to dispose of.

What should logistic providers do?

Certain basic rules apply here. Vehicles that transport the vaccines should have GPS trackers. Fuel monitoring should be done to ensure that they don't have to stop at any fuel stations where there is a threat. CCTV systems must be present in and around.

"Another critical point is to ensure that the driver is reliable because only a properly vetted and trained driver should be allowed to move COVID vaccines," Thirumala said. "Moreover, something that the bad guys can do is try to hijack the shipment using mobile jammers. A mobile jammer is often a battery-operated device that can cut off the communication between the command center and the truck."

Thirumala recommends that you should have more than one tracker when transporting high-value items. One can be a standard tracker powered by batteries. Another should be on top of the container and should be solar-powered. These are a little more difficult to jam.

"And they should also have RFID Bluetooth trackers, which are small devices that you can place in four or five different parts of the vehicle," Thirumala continued. "If somebody's able to hijack the vehicle, they'll definitely cut off the tracker. These Bluetooth trackers that use RFID ultra-high frequency range would help identify the last tracked GPS point."


Concerns of a black market for COVID-19 vaccines may not be too high now but will definitely warrant attention in the coming months. security of vaccine transportation and storage areas would be a significant area for integrators and solution providers to focus on. Vaccines are seen as the only solution for the world to recover significantly from the pandemic. Any threat to them would result in more crises. 

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