Ask the Expert: COVID-19 Vaccines and the Supply Chain Revolution

Ask the expert, Pharmaceuticals, COVID-19

What are the COVID-19 vaccine distribution challenges, and how have they changed the supply chain? 

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the world in a little under a year; the global supply chain was one of the first sectors to feel the pinch. Local and regional shutdowns, trained employees who were out sick, and product shortages/outages all played a part in revealing how fragile the supply chain truly is. While pharmaceutical manufacturers are quickly developing vaccines, they are also scaling their supply chain needs to be able to distribute and transport billions of doses. Additionally, some of the vaccines must be stored at temperatures lower than the cold chain historically has supported. Any break in the required temperature during transport or storage can render the vaccine ineffective or unsafe, and these vital products would have to subsequently be destroyed.

Controlant evolved out of the H1N1 (“Swine Flu”) pandemic in 2009 when third-party logistics providers, distribution centers, pharmacies, and health clinics used our solution to protect and control the transportation and storage of critical vaccine supply throughout Iceland. Due to our integration with local distributors, pharmacies, and healthcare facilities, the pharmaceutical supply chain waste in Iceland is around 0.5% and has been for the last 11 years. We accomplished our mission to increase product safety and reduce waste by digitally connecting the global cold chain throughout this earlier crisis.

We have taken our proven model out of Iceland and expanded to the rest of the world through our partnerships with large pharmaceutical manufacturers shipping COVID-19 vaccines. Many of our customers have reduced product waste by more than 70 percent within the first 12 months—keeping more pharmaceuticals available and safe for patients. Our solution mitigates many supply chain risks and drives continuous improvements throughout the cold chain. In 2021, we expect to monitor several million COVID-19 vaccine supply and treatments traveling globally throughout the supply chain to prevent the pandemic’s spread.

Cold Chain as a Service®

Expanding from our early years of vaccine distribution monitoring in Iceland, we now globally provide Cold Chain as a Service®, a three-fold approach to monitoring the cold chain that is flexible, cost-effective, validated, and scalable across the entire supply chain. Our Internet of Things (IoT) data loggers provide continuous, automated visibility with real-time tracking, mission-critical analytics. We couple our data loggers with a proprietary, cloud-based software platform that delivers live shipment data where supply chain stakeholders can immediately view, respond to, and mitigate risks associated with escalations or deviations. We round out our offering with data logger management and 24/7/365 intervention services to intervene on our clients’ behalf.

Our real-time visibility solution is an integral part of the pharma supply chain and adheres to global regulations that require pharmaceuticals and other life sciences products, including vaccines, blood plasma, and medical devices, to be tracked throughout the supply chain. Our Cold Chain as a Service® digitally connects each step of the global temperature-controlled supply chain, providing unparalleled insights into products’ location and quality conditions during transport and storage. This ensures consistent safety and efficacy of products, reduces stock outages, minimizes risk, automates business processes, and ultimately drives down business costs.

Building the pharma control tower

While visibility and alerts are critical to the control tower, on their own, they are insufficient. The Controlant supply chain control tower is more than just real-time alerts and notifications; we layer on analytics, responsive monitoring services, and cross-functional stakeholder collaboration. Our control tower is a centralized hub that integrates people, processes, and systems across the end-to-end supply chain to drive tangible business outcomes. We offer a control tower with value-rich dashboard analytic that show current shipment data—even more crucial when transporting COVID-19 vaccines. Our control tower also provides meaningful supply chain insights through real-time analytics that help increase responsiveness and execution of decision making.

Control tower building blocks

The starting point of any control tower is receiving notifications and alerts about product condition and quality. Our cloud software platform delivers mission-critical analytics on active shipment data, supply chain performance, and supply chain processes, giving you more than simply product location and condition monitoring. Preventive actions can start as soon as your stakeholders receive the first alert or business rule deviation. The dashboard data show additional issues, like split shipments, theft, shipments not picked up or arrive at the wrong location, suspected damage, and customs or border issues. Preventing these types of events will help minimize the inherent risks of transporting and distributing billions of vital vaccine doses that require specific temperatures to maintain efficacy.

The future of the control tower

The COVID-19 outbreak has reshaped the global supply chain in a matter of months, and the control tower needs to adapt as well. The unprecedented supply chain transformation due to the pandemic was only achievable because of technology, which connected manufacturers, carriers, clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies. The vaccine bypassed traditional wholesale and distributor sales models, providing a look into the future supply chain and how it might operate. Technology allowed for just-in-time delivery of products with greater visibility, fewer handoffs, and continued monitoring after shipment delivery. Carriers and sites received push notifications directly to intervene based on rules established by the pharma manufacturer.

Controlant is pushing the control tower further by linking real-time data to product conditions, place, time, quantity, and price together for a better patient experience and increased product safety. Data analytics provide enterprises with comprehensive insights to fuel decision-making and collaboration throughout their entire business ecosystem. Our data-sharing platform also connects all supply chain partners with full visibility and accountability. Using the real-time information that our system offers, many of our customers have substantially reduced product waste, even down to zero—a fact even more critical when it comes to distributing COVID-19 vaccines and test kits safely around the globe. Our customers can also make informed decisions about supply chain partners based on performance trends and external points of interest, like airports, harbors, and cross-docks. Through easily accessible data on a secure cloud-platform, stakeholders can more easily identify weak areas in their supply chains and increase their responsiveness.


Knowing that a supply chain disruption has occurred is one thing, but the ability to respond quickly and intelligently is what truly separates best-in-class cold chains from the rest. Our control tower enables cross-functional team members to work proactively and resolve the most pressing issues. It not only provides real-time dashboard visibility and actionable insights to assess the operational and financial impact of changes but provides the ability to respond to changes proactively. Onsite monitoring information can also be shared with federal and state governments, clinics, and healthcare partners, which will be vital when monitoring the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Establish supply chain agility and resilience

Supply chain resilience has been shown as a critical component for enterprises to weather the global pandemic. Organizations that already had incorporated resiliency into their practices had a much easier time navigating the turbulence of a worldwide crisis. For companies that were not quite prepared, now is definitely the time to be planning for the future, and finding a reliable technology and services partner is a great place to begin.

Controlant provides unprecedented insights and benchmarking data so that pharmaceutical enterprises can measure and improve their supply chains. With IoT and cloud technology, users gain value-rich dashboard analytics and insights into their supply chain (including origins, destinations, and routes), their partners (including freight companies, airlines, and packaging solutions), and their external points of interest (including cross-docks, harbors, and airports). 

The ultra-cold chain and why it is important in COVID-19 vaccine distribution

About Ada Palmadottir

Ada Palmadottir is Business Development Director at Controlant. With more than 20 years of experience in pharmacy, management, and technology, Ada has extensive international experience in sales, operations, and marketing, specifically in the areas of product, vertical alliance sales, and partnerships related to pharmaceutical products. She is a licensed and experienced pharmacist and earned a Master of Pharmacy from the University of Iceland and a Master of Business Administration from the Norwegian School of Management in Oslo. Ada has been working with Controlant for more than ten years.