DHL Covid-19 vaccine
Location of the new DHL facility at Skyparks Business Estate in Johannesburg
  • DHL has invested R126.5 million in a 10,000 sqm warehouse near OR Tambo International airport.
  • The facility includes specialised cold-chain logistics with three adjustable temperature-controlled refrigerators.
  • DHL South Africa is in “confidential” talks with government to support the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, says Managing Director Clement Blanc.
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International courier and logistics giant, DHL Global Forwarding, is investing R126.5 million in a new facility in Johannesburg. Featuring a 10,000 sqm warehouse and specialised cold-chain refrigeration units, primed to processes life science and healthcare products, the facility aims to capitalise on the recently ratified African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

DHL, which employs more than half a million people across 220 countries, looks to benefit from Africa’s e-commerce surge, which has increased demand for warehousing and distribution. The new facility, located at Skyparks Business Estate, adjacent to OR Tambo International Airport, will cater to air, ocean, road freight and breakbulk cargo.

Emphasis has been placed on the facility’s cold-chain capabilities, which will include three adjustable temperature-controlled refrigerators. Although cold-chain logistics have been used extensively for the safe storage and transport of temperature-sensitive consumables, the handling of pharmaceutical products has become a large part of DHL’s offering.

This is especially true within the context of Covid-19 and global responses to the pandemic. DHL was the first private, non-pharmaceutical entity to deliver Covid-19 vaccines on 10 December 2020, just two days after the first jab was administered in the UK.

“After numerous months of preparation, we are happy that our mission of vaccine distribution has now started and we could contribute our logistics expertise and capabilities to make vaccines accessible worldwide.” explained Travis Cobb, the Head of Global Network Operations and Aviation at DHL Express, following the successful storage and transport of millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Israel.

DHL, which has a fleet of 260 freight aircraft, estimates that it would take 15 million cooler boxes, as part of its cold-chain facilities, and 15,000 flights to administer 10 billion doses worldwide.

While most vaccines in circulation need to be kept cold – at around 5°C – to ensure prime efficacy, some Covid-19 doses, like the one produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, require freezing temperatures of -70°C.

The equipment needed to store and facilitate the distribution of these vaccines needs to be specialised and governments, especially in developing nations, are increasingly looking to the private sector to meet these needs. DHL has confirmed that is engaged in talks with the South African government to support the vaccine rollout and the Johannesburg facility is likely to play a role in its approach.

“We are already involved in several confidential discussions with both manufacturers and representatives of the public sector to plan for what the supply chain would look like for the distribution,” explained Clement Blanc, the Managing Director of DHL Global Forwarding in South Africa.

Details of the discussions, much like government’s plans to acquire the vaccine, remain secretive. Blanc noted that DHL “cannot disclose further details at this point in time”.

DHL in South Africa is not the first private sector entity to confirm its collaboration with government. Local pharmaceutical giants, Clicks and Dis-Chem, have also been approached by government to assist with the vaccine rollout. Additionally, Private medical aid schemes have been tasked with subsidising doses to ensure treatment is free and equitable to all South Africans.

One of the primary pillars of government’s vaccine rollout plan, which adopts a phased approach, focusing on essential workers first, with the intention to have 67% of the population vaccinated before the end of 2021, is in collaboration with the private sector.

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