COVID-19’s Vaccine Impact on Cold Chain Logistics


COVID-19’s Vaccine Impact on Cold Chain Logistics

Does the COVID-19 vaccine have your cold chain logistics worried? If not, you should be taking it into consideration. 

Everyone’s over the pandemic. We’re ready to be back attending public events, traveling to popular destinations, have our kids in school full time, and more. So much of 2020 has had to cancel or make the move to virtual and it’s not the same. Additionally, here at Trinity, the health and wellbeing of our Team Members, Authorized Agents, Carriers, and Customers is our number one priority.

Pfizer, Moderna, and others have quickly turned around vaccine solutions, making the light at the end of the tunnel seem in reach. With everyone looking to gain some sense of normal back into their lives, it means all hands will be on deck for the upcoming vaccine distribution. That means other cold chain commodities, will fall lower in priority. How will this affect your cold chain logistics?


Vaccines are fragile. Most have to store at specific colder temperatures to protect them from deterioration. If left out too long or exposed to fluctuating temperatures, vaccines can lose their effectiveness. According to the World Health Organization, one in four vaccines loses its integrity during transit. Due to their fragility and the extensive attention to detail that the logistics sector has to maintain, roughly 80 percent of a vaccine’s cost comes from its storage and transport. 

Usually vaccines transport in temperature ranges of two to eight degrees Celsius. Currently, nine COVID-19 vaccines are in their Phase 3 trials, with two, Pfizer and Moderna, being very close to distribution. Because of the quick turnaround the world is seeking, these vaccines are containing higher protein bases which need ultracold temperatures, as low as minus 80 degree Celsius. Those receiving vaccines will need to get two doses, each about three to four weeks apart. Over time, vaccines will be developedrequiring more typical refrigeration temperatures and single doses. Regardless, cold chain logistics will continue to play a vital role in the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine and for now, the specifications will be strict. 


Currently, Pfizer expects to produce and distribute up to 50 million doses of their vaccine in 2020 and 1.3 billion in 2021; Moderna expects 20 million in 2020 and anywhere from 500 million to one billion in 2021. Not to mention the other vaccines that will make their way as well. It is estimated that to immunize 7.8 billion people worldwide, 10 billion doses of a coronavirus vaccine will be needed.

The FMCSA recently announced their most recent extension of the Hours-of-Service waiver to February 28th and included carriers transporting COVID-19 vaccines. This effort is expected to be the biggest challenge the logistics sector has ever faced. Currently, logistics experts are struggling to plan ahead because of the lack of very specific information that they need to know about, such as the packaging, amount of dry ice needed to maintain temperatures, warehousing, equipment needed, and more. 

Shipping temperature-sensitive items? Check out our Temperature Shipping Guide.


Through Operation Warp Speed, Moderna and other upcoming vaccines will deliver to the Mckesson distribution center in Irving, Texas, and then arranged deliveries to hospitals, nursing homes, and other determined points. Moderna will manufacture its vaccine in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. 

Pfizer, however, has chosen to not distribute through Operation Warp Speed. They manufacture their vaccine in Michigan and plan to ship with transportation providers such as UPS and FedEx to locations around the country. They’ve chosen to directly ship to gain greater control and real-time insights into the status of their frozen vials. 


Obviously, reefer capacity is going to be needed for vaccine distribution. But, it’s already tight. If you’re in the cold chain, shipping temperature-controlled items, prepare to continue paying premiums for this service.

Recently, reefer rejection rates have been at almost 50 percent. That means almost one out of every two reefer shipments are being turned down by carriers. When the rejection rates are higher, the tighter capacity is, and the higher cost for you to get your cold freight moved. Reefer rates are already 20 percent higher year-over-year due to increased consumer demand while spending more time at home. 


If you ship temperature-controlled goods, the upcoming vaccine distribution efforts should be a concern for your business and logistics, especially if you regularly ship through less-than-truckload (LTL). Many top tier transportation companies such as UPS, FedEx, and DHL are ready to help Operation Warp Speed in the vaccine distribution. Everyone knows the vaccine distribution is the highest priority, but transportation providers also know they will be well compensated for their service of transporting it. This means other cold chain commodities will be pushed further down in priority. This will only continue on as more COVID vaccines become available to be distributed and until risk of COVID is greatly reduced. In the form of some ultracold transportation logistics, winter is coming and the demand for reefers will continue to rise. 



Get ready now. Start talking to your relationships and providers to make sure you will have trucks to move your freight. Talk to your customers. Let them know now that things may slow down or get behind with the upcoming and expected vaccine distribution efforts.

Things may be getting tougher for you, but I think we all know this is good. We’re one step closer to returning to some sense of normalcy. Hold on, because the light at the end of the tunnel is there. It’s now in reach. We’re just in for a few more bumps in the road, but we’ll make it. 

Looking for an expert in cold chain logistics? 

Find Your Solutions with Trinity

Author: Christine Morris