HIROMITSU GOTO, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO — With Japan’s first doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine set to arrive as early as Sunday, logistics companies are rushing to prepare a cold chain network that can bring shots safely all the way from overseas production sites to recipients’ arms.
The vaccines will be flown in via an All Nippon Airways cargo flight from plants in Germany and Belgium, where doses for the Japanese market are reportedly being manufactured.
German international courier DHL has been contracted to handle the import process as well as distribution in Japan. Yamato Holdings and Seino Transportation, a subsidiary of Seino Holdings, have also been tapped to transport the vaccine in Japan.
Vials will be shipped from warehouses operated by these companies to regional vaccination hubs, such as major hospitals, that can store them at the required ultralow temperature of minus 70 C.
When the time comes for delivery to actual vaccination sites, such as clinics, vaccines will be removed from this deep freeze and split up into smaller quantities for local shipments at refrigerated temperatures of 2 to 8 C.
This last step is expected to pose a particular challenge. The Pfizer vaccine can remain at refrigerated temperatures for only five days, after which it becomes less effective and must be discarded.
The plan in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, which has drawn attention as a potential model for other local governments, calls for distributing vaccines to roughly 250 individual clinics. Precise planning and reliable transportation will be needed to ensure that as many doses as possible are administered within the five-day window.
Shippers have been running simulations to get ready for the real thing. But information sharing between the public and private sectors risks becoming a stumbling block to a smooth rollout.
“The approval time frame and import details for each vaccine are unclear, so we can’t line up delivery staff,” said a representative at a transportation company.