Flu Knew? UPS Ships Vaccines to Laos: Video
Flu Knew? UPS Ships Vaccines to Laos: Video
by Karen Cole
I drive by at least two Walgreens pharmacies on the way to work every morning. As you might have seen from the store’s windows and signs, it’s more convenient than ever to swing by and get a flu shot. I was thinking about this when I found out our UPS healthcare experts were at the heart of planning a major logistics feat just last month: shipping 375,000 doses of donated flu vaccines by Walgreens to Laos.
As the U.S. flu season waned in late spring, the flu season for Southeast Asiawill be starting up in a few weeks. Laotians don’t have access to a corner Walgreens, so it was really important to get the vaccines to them safely and securely. And, if you had to check a map like I did to find out the distance from the U.S. to Laos…it’s really far from around the corner!
In my quest to find out more, I talked to Margaret Clayton and Dimitri Zacharenko, two expert “healthcare logisticians” who provide temperature-sensitive solutions for UPS customers and helped plan this shipment. Margaret is a manager of UPS Temperature Sensitive Sales and Dimitri is a manager of UPS Temperature Sensitive Healthcare Solutions. Here’s what they told me:
Karen: How exactly did UPS get involved in planning this shipment? It sounds like extreme logistics.
Margaret: Walgreens approached us for a solution to ship the flu vaccines but they were challenged with how to get them from storage in our healthcare facility inLouisville, Ky., to the Lao PDR Ministry of Health 9,000 miles away. They needed a viable way to keep the vaccines within a strict temperature range of 2°C to 8°C the entire way; otherwise, they spoil and can’t be used. Getting to Laos is challenging not only because of the distance, but it’s not the easiest location to reach with such a sensitive shipment. The transportation options are limited because of infrastructure challenges.
Karen: So, how did we do it?
Dimitri: A lot of very precise planning. Just like we approach any healthcare shipment with temperature-sensitive needs, besides knowing where it’s coming from and where it needs to go, we first have to investigate a series of precise details including: What’s the type of product being shipped and the temperature range it can sustain? What type of container will the product be in? Are there any regulatory licensing requirements? Are there customs issues? What are the time constraints?
Margaret: And with this request, we only had less than a week to plan so we had to act quickly. In total, it involved almost 50 UPS employees in the U.S. and in Asia working together from our healthcare facility staff, to UPS Airlines, to our freight forwarding and brokerage units. The shipment needed to travel across two continents and over five stops. The planning was a round-the-clock effort by a large team thinking of every small detail.
Karen: I have to be honest – it might seem like a logistical nightmare to most. We must really love logistics.
Dimitri: Well, we also had to think about contingency plans. You can’t forget that. There could have been any number of potential issues that arose along the way, from customs clearance delays, to security, to temperature fluctuations. You’re basically traveling in varying temperatures and potential extremes from Louisville to Anchorage, Alaska, where temperatures can be very cold, to Thailand and Laos where the weather is hot and humid. The flu vaccines were kept secure using our UPS Temperature True air freight service and they traveled in two PharmaPort 360 containers to keep the vaccines at the required temperature.
Karen: Very cool – I mean, literally…the containers are like high-tech flying refrigerators.
Dimitri: Yes, you’re right. The two PharmaPort 360 containers kept the temperature very stable over the five-day trip toLaos, never deviating by more than 1 or 2 degrees. And because of the containers’ built-in technology, our control tower agents monitoring the shipment were in constant contact with our operational handlers at every touch-point along the route. That way, we could act quickly if something didn’t go as planned and put our contingencies in place. The shipment arrived in perfect condition.
Margaret: At the end of the day, not only did Walgreens trust us to keep $9 million worth of vaccines safe, but we had to think about the value of what this meant to the people inLaos who might not otherwise have access to a flu vaccine. It was important that we got it right. We had to have all our “T”s crossed and “I”s dotted. There was no room for error.
Check out this video that shows the cool cargo in action.