Challenges in Tracking the Vaccines Shipment

Published by Mikaela Fernandez on

Vaccine Security

Tracking the vaccines is an integral part of securing the success of COVID-19 immunization programs. Several vaccines have already been developed and deployed in various countries. However, due to scarcity and high demand for the vaccines, they are considered high-value targets for theft. In the short time of its existence, it became a highly lucrative business in the black market. Currently, COVID-19 vaccines are selling for $200 per dose on the black market. Interpol issued an orange alert warning as a provocative measure to combat the possible increase in armed robberies of vaccine shipments.

In the onslaught of the pandemic, several thefts were reported involving COVID-19 related products and equipment. Several countries experienced various theft-related incidents. In an aviation facility in Kenya- millions of respiratory masks were stolen; in Florida- $1 million worth of medical gloves; in Colombia- 200 respirators, and even 130,000 rolls of toilet paper in Britain.

Freight companies have been trying to prevent this kind of robbery or pirate attack. They implemented strategies such as adding manpower and acquiring digital spycraft. But in order to achieve full security, freight companies also have to find solutions in properly tracking the vaccines shipment in real-time.

Shipment company using QR Code in tracking the vaccines shipment
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Lack of Communication

Lack of communication and means is a great barrier to the success of the distribution of vaccines. Increase transparency and clear communication means are important, for one, if a reefer beaks down on the road, the driver should be able to inform the facility instantly. If a hospital is waiting for its shipment, leadership should be able to track where it is on the route. The hospital should also be able to identify its ETA or simply have a plan for how to get its stranded shipment. But this wasn’t the case in the earlier phase of the distribution. Many problems and vaccine delivery have been put at risk just because of a lack of a proper communication system. Fortunately, as more countries approve the vaccines, more and more companies joined the rally of monitoring and tracking the vaccines shipment. Modern delivery platforms can help everyone work in concert. The automated and essential solutions will help pave the way for the vaccine delivery itself.


Malicious actors often target pharmaceutical companies’ intellectual property or personally identifiable information since they are considered high-value and are, therefore, high-reward. Data is the foundation of the work done by the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors. Since developing a pharmaceutical drug and preparing it for market launch is a critical undertaking, it often involves sizeable money and considerable effort. If a clinical trial is compromised, it may lead to huge revenue loss. In the worst-case scenario, intellectual property theft can ultimately ruin small pharmaceutical companies.

Data protection through management and controls was a top priority during the development of the vaccine. Still, cyber threats were encountered by the pharmaceutical sector. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) experienced a cyber attack last December 2020. The timelines for the evaluation and approval of the COVID-19 were not affected; however, after investigation, it was revealed that some third-party documents were obtained by infiltrators. The reason for this is because some of the stolen data regarding the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines were put on the dark web after the cyber attack.

Infiltrators stealing intellectual property
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Air Cargo

According to the Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA), the COVID-19 vaccine transportation are the “biggest security challenge for a generation.” In order to get rid of the disease completely, 7 billion to 19 billion doses of vaccines need to be transported and administered worldwide. Therefore, this delivery will place stringent demands on pharmaceutical cold chains.

Air cargo companies should be precarious in assessing cargo security risks. It should be done on a country-by-country basis since the threat of cargo theft is always present and lurking.

Black markets are controlled by supply and demands. Crime groups are aware of the high-value of the COVID-19 vaccine doses. Due to this, it is extremely likely that they are preparing for ways to infiltrate the vaccine cold chain in an attempt to steal the shipments, especially since high volumes of vaccines are being transported per shipment.

Cargo crime intelligence tools can be used to properly administer air cargo supply chain security programs. Air transport will be highly crucial in transferring the vaccines worldwide. Ensuring the secure storage, transportation, and delivery of the vaccine shipments is important for patient safety. Pharma cargo cost is five to seven times the value of the product in cargo security terms. This is because it produces a domino-effect if disrupted. It can cause huge product recalls and damage the reputation of various companies.

cargo theft one of the reason for stronger security for vaccines
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 Land transportation

Shipping companies should employ experienced drivers in the transport of COVID-19 vaccines. H. Essers, a Dutch shipping company, known for transporting delicate cargo such as fine art and cash, has assigned its skilled drivers to transport the Covid-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. The drivers assigned in the haul will be subjected to stringent background checks. As a security measure, the truck doors of H. Essers will have digital locks that can only be opened remotely. Furthermore, they will also undergo training with regard to preventing attacks on vaccine cargo. The company implements the highest-level security measures in order to ensure that each truck is a vault on wheels.

Another strategy to transport the vaccines discreetly is by carrying them through unmarked trucks. Such is the case for trucks transporting Sinovac and Moderna vaccines in Switzerland. In some high-risk areas, these trucks are transported by armed guards. They also have also integrated technologies tracking the vaccines so cargo can be monitored by assigned personnel. Authorized staff can detect opened doors, the passage of trucks, and breaks taken by the drivers.

GmbH, a German freight hauler, has equipped their trucks for vaccine shipments as well. They installed their cargo doors with loud-sounding alarms that sound at 90 decibels if they are opened without proper authorization. There are also panic buttons installed on the dashboards, which drivers can press in case of emergency. In the event of a hijack situation, a kill switch that can shut off the engine is also installed. High-level security will be provided to the vaccine shipments en-route, and stops will only be allowed in locations that have been approved beforehand. Convoys that possess $10 million worth of vaccines would be accompanied by armed police escorts to guarantee safety. Shipments are also tailed by guards who are in civilian clothing to prevent malicious actors from opening the truck’s back door while it is speeding through the highway.

The storage boxes inside the trucks have wireless sensors that send signals in case there is a change in light, temperature, and location. These sensors also help in tracking the vaccines if stolen. It also monitors the stability of the cooling systems to ensure that the shots are kept fresh. However, even with the layers of precaution, even the most minimal tampering can destroy an entire batch. Therefore, it is important to be cautious of both theft and external environmental threats. Any cold chain interruption may lead to an entire batch of vaccines being degraded. It is essential that proactive measures are undertaken in protecting the integrity of vaccine shipments.

AKCP Pharma-Mon Server

An example of this modern solution is the AKCP Pharma-Mon Server. It is an IoT cloud-based platform for monitoring and tracking the vaccines by shipment, carton, or individual vials from the factory to the warehouse to medical facilities. It has a user interface where you can also monitor the temperature, view complete graphs of vaccine history, total accumulated time outside of cold storage. It can be remotely accessed via desktop or mobile phone in real-time.

Tracking the Vaccines

Track the location of your vaccines in the cold chain. Whether in transit or in storage, view lives location data together with temperature data. Transfer stock, breakbulk packages, and assign to warehouses or storage facilities.

Data Graphing

AKCP sensors log data continuously. When in range of a Wireless Tunnel Gateway data synchronizes and graphs are created. Overlay multiple sensors with temperature excursions are highlighted.

Sensors can be used to detect temperature changes and alert staff if there is suspicious activity occurring during the transport. These sensors can also detect temperature changes in data centers used in COVID-19 ICT infrastructures. AKCP has been a reliable provider and remains a leader in network-based environmental and security monitoring solutions.

Having a reliable technical solutions partner makes tracking the vaccines easier and more efficient. It will also ensure the safe and effective delivery of vaccine cold chains worldwide.

Tracking the vaccines using AKCP Pharma-Mon Server
Tracking the vaccines using AKCP Pharma-Mon Server

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