COVID Fundamentally Changed Cold Chain Companies

DHL transporting COVID vaccines
Workers load a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines for transport. (DHL)

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The coronavirus vaccine rollout required rapid adjustment by cold chain companies that continues to influence technologies and operations more than a year later.

“There have been new technologies built around the track and trace of vaccines,” Dan Gagnon, vice president of global health care strategy at UPS Inc., told Transport Topics. “Certainly, the active containers and packaging that hold them and then even modes of transportation. There’s been a lot of innovation with drones.”

UPS continued to drive enhancements and investments in those areas since the early days of the rollout, resulting in the technologies becoming more refined and widely used today — for instance, better and more granular integration of tracking technologies within its operations.



“The technology has allowed us to deliver 99.9% effective on-time, which is a pretty significant milestone,” Gagnon said. “So, as we see other critical shipments within health care that need that kind of service level, whether it be tissues or other specialty pharmaceuticals, it’s being expanded. So, it’s covering more than just vaccine doses.”

Gagnon pointed to freezers as an example of innovation. He noted they now come in smaller sizes to handle limited batches. They also are more mobile while still being able to keep a minus-70 degree Celsius temperature.

“I think COVID was a driver of these investments for sure,” Gagnon said. “And I think it made, perhaps, the implementation and execution a little more expedited. But here’s the amazing thing; we didn’t build a church just for Easter Sunday when we built this technology. As you look in the future, these mRNA technologies are now moving to chronic diseases. So, there will be a lot of medicines that will require frozen and cold supply chains. And they’re critical.”

UPS Inc. ranks No. 1 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.


“DHL is constantly developing new solutions and using technology to enhance compliance and efficiency,” the DHL Life Sciences and Healthcare global team said in a statement provided to TT. “The pandemic accelerated the development and focus, especially in areas related to risk management, real-time visibility, intervention management, digital quality control and data analytics.”

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DHL also invested in its network to add capacity to supply and transport dry ice, and validated aviation networks to transport active data loggers. The importance of communication, collaboration among business units and visibility also were major lessons learned.

“The DHL global presence, expertise and infrastructure were validated and shown to be dynamic and integrated as logistic solutions were designed in collaboration between multiple units — such as freight forwarding, express, specialty courier and charter solutions — with the common vision to maintain the integrity of the vaccines, expedite the delivery to the global community and save lives,” the DHL statement also noted.

DHL Supply Chain ranks No. 7 on the TT Top 50 list of the largest logistics companies.

Tower Cold Chain



Tower Cold Chain rents containers to the pharmaceutical industry that are used to transport products that need temperature control. The KTEvolution container was announced by the company March 30. It is designed for smaller pharmaceutical shipments such as direct-to-patient and last mile.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how vital cold chain is for the pharmaceutical industry,” Nick Gilmore, head of sales and marketing at Tower Cold Chain, told TT. “Listening to customers’ needs, feedback made it clear that the market would welcome a smaller solution, which offers the same robust, reliable and reusable benefits but at a size ideal for manual handling. Hence the development of the KTEvolution.”


Carrier Global Corp. temperature-monitoring technology subsidiary Sensitech has been involved in the rollout since the early stages by helping to monitor vaccines, therapeutics and test kits.



“We learned that it is vital to have multiple manufacturing locations,” Melita Marks, senior product marketing manager for life sciences at Sensitech, told TT. “Sensitech’s temperature monitors continued to be manufactured when two sites were shut down in China in early 2020. We were able to pivot and shift manufacturing to our other 11 locations on different continents.”

Marks also noted visibility in the early stages of the supply chain was crucial and something that still influences advancements. Sensitech has worked on real-time temperature and location monitoring while integrating alerts with other software solutions.




Overhaul develops supply chain visibility and risk management software. The company worked with clients involved in the rollout on time- and temperature-sensitive shipments. Tarik Sarhan, vice president of business development at Overhaul, noted the experience forced companies to embrace digital innovation at a much quicker pace.

“Companies were not prepared for that kind of demand in general, really, due to the scale, duration and high levels of uncertainty,” Sarhan told TT. “It was a very challenging task. Some companies really were able to step in and rethink how do I do this at scale, and how do I actually use technology to improve this operation.”