How the pandemic will foster collaboration for years to come

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the importance of international collaboration. How can we reinforce it in order to prepare for the challenges ahead? Banner image: DHL
How the pandemic will foster collaboration for years to come

This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders  from around the world and all parts of society  address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

To keep updated on all of the OECD's work supporting the fight against COVID-19, visit our Digital Content Hub.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the question of a vaccine quickly came up. When will it be available? How well will it work? How long will it take to vaccinate enough people to achieve herd immunity? The biggest health crisis in 100 years can be overcome mainly because of advances in medical research and development: by the end of 2020, COVID-19 vaccine developers already had the basis for vaccines, creating a silver lining that promised to end the coronavirus pandemic. Its development was five times faster than any previous vaccine, and its production also broke records.

But the successful development and production of the vaccine are just part of the challenge: when distributing the vaccine worldwide, we have to be as fast as possible while ensuring the security and integrity of the supply chains. After all, these vaccines are not only of high value but also extremely sensitive. Temperature control is key, with some vaccines requiring conditions of -70 degrees Celsius that must be maintained throughout transit. Transporting vaccines (or any temperature-controlled product for that matter) requires a highly co-ordinated approach, backed by trained people and certified infrastructure. This includes intimate knowledge of the minute details, such as packaging, storing, air and land routing, timing, carrier selection, specific handling requirements and more.

Deutsche Post DHL Group has been able to play a major role in distributing the vaccine worldwide, accelerating the fight against the virus. To date, we have distributed more than 1 billion doses of all approved vaccines across more than 160 countries worldwide. DHL Global Forwarding and DHL Express have been tasked with transporting COVID-19 vaccines on multiple routes from Europe and other origins to countries across Asia, South America and Europe. DHL Supply Chain is responsible for the correct storage and local distribution of the vaccines in several German states. 

DHL workers dispatch Covid vaccines
Photo: DHL

As of today, approximately 5 billion of the 10 billion vaccine doses required by the end of the year have been administered. To further advance the distribution of vaccines, all sectors, industries and nations need to promote collaboration and work closely together. With more than 95% of COVID-19 vaccines being manufactured in just eight countries but delivered worldwide, proactive transport capacity management and sustainable packaging returns are particularly important. Last-mile logistics also play an important role. Here, the focus should be on developing locally tailored distribution models, paying particular attention to the strategic location of warehouses, the synchronization of vaccine and ancillaries flows, and the number and location of immunisation sites. Last but not least, informing the population about the process - and importance - of vaccination is key to effective vaccination campaigns. 

In our white paper Revisiting Pandemic Resilience, we estimate 7-9 billion more vaccine doses are needed over the next few years to keep infection rates down and reduce or slow the emergence of viral mutations. Accordingly, decision-makers must maintain logistical infrastructure and capacity, prepare for high patient and vaccine volumes and account for seasonal fluctuations. But this health crisis will not be the last, and we need to learn from the current pandemic to best prepare for the next. To this end, we have defined three areas of strategic importance.

To detect an emerging health crisis at an early stage, active partnerships should be cultivated, global warning systems should be expanded and a prevention agenda should be developed. The crisis has shown us once again how important research and development are - therefore, generous investments should be made in these areas. 

International scientific co-operation on COVID-19 has been a hallmark during the pandemic
International scientific co-operation on COVID-19 has been a hallmark during the pandemic. Source: OECD

To be able to react more quickly in the future, countermeasures should be expanded and institutionalised, for example through early warning systems, digital contact tracing, and national stockpiles. The latter is crucial for prompt containment measures and includes a safety stock of key supplies, such as masks, tests, disinfectant, freezers, packaging and dry ice. As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, the cost of maintaining a safety stockpile is very minimal compared to the cost of having to set up a last-minute emergency system. Stock cycling systems need to be designed in such a way to ensure that materials are put to use in the healthcare system before they expire, to keep waste at a minimum. 

The rapid introduction of new medication must also be further facilitated. This can be achieved through "ever-warm" manufacturing capacity for diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics. This approach enables a quick ramp-up to large-quantity production in case of an emergency. Defining blueprint research, production and procurement plans, and expanding local deployment options also need to be considered. 

Read more on the Forum Network: International Technology Transfer to Promote Access and Innovation in a Pandemic, by Carolina I. Sepúlveda & Jessica A. Ocampos 

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of multi-sectoral, international co-operation. Specifically, collaborations between pharma companies, governments, NGOs, logistics players and – at times, the military – can ensure smooth end-to-end operations. While such partnerships have partly existed in the past, we are now seeing much closer collaboration as partners go the extra mile, seamlessly complementing each other’s competencies. One such example is the COVAX Facility, which aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of vaccines and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country. With that in mind, the World Economic Forum, UNICEF and an initial 18 companies – including Deutsche Post DHL Group – signed a charter to support the COVAX preparedness efforts and implementation. The charter fosters multi-stakeholder collaborative action to achieve globally inclusive, safe and sustainable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. 

The OECD has highlighted the importance of keeping markets open by reducing tariffs, streamlining trade-related processes and professional logistics planning with sufficient lead time as essential for timely access to vaccines for all. The importance of building an efficient and resilient supply chain to distribute the temperature-sensitive vaccines globally should not be underestimated. It is clear “more jabs for more jobs” are needed, as speeding up vaccine production and rollout is the best policy available today to boost resilience, job creation and recovery.

We are confident that working collaboratively will help us get through this and further humanitarian crises as a global community.

Find out more about the OECD’s work on The race to vaccinate

Find out more about the OECD’s work on The race to vaccinate

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 Health Vaccines International Co-operation

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