© Roman Didkivskiy

The focus of vaccine distribution so far has been on airline capacity and the ability to deliver at the correct temperature – but security will also be crucial, with armed escorts and convoys expected to be used.

In fact, it will be “the biggest security challenge for a generation” according to the Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA).

TAPA, which represents more than half of the world’s top 25 pharmaceutical companies, said that while pharma supply chains were among the more resilient, the real cost of a loss could be enormous.

“In terms of cargo security, the true cost of losing a pharma cargo has been estimated to be between five to seven times the value of the product, because of the domino-effect it creates, including wide-scale product recalls – to say nothing of the reputational damage to companies, explained TAPA EMEA chief Thorsten Neumann.

“Product losses are clearly the biggest threat, but contamination of pharma cargo during a cargo crime – even if it is not actually stolen – can be just as damaging.”

TAPA is advising companies to “leave no stone unturned in assessing the cargo security risks and requirements on a country-by-country basis”.

Mr Neumann advised: “With a black market controlled by supply and demand, organised crime groups (OCGs) will be very aware of the value of doses of the vaccine, and are highly likely to be looking for ways to intercept supply chains to steal shipments, especially with such high volumes being distributed within a short timescale.

“If such losses do arise, the impact on the global community will be much more far-reaching than the theft of a single shipment of vaccines. As we have already seen this year, with the high number of thefts of PPE, cargo thieves are very active in targeting Covid-related products. So, as industry, we must be ready.”

From 1 November 2019 to 1 November 2020, TAPA reported 58 incidents in pharmaceuticals, with a total loss value of more than €11m, or €189,000 per crime.

But TAPA notes that pharma companies in particular are reluctant to share intelligence on thefts, and only two companies report them to TAPA, jeopardising the association’s ability to increase awareness on risks.

But TAPA’s intelligence shows that the majority of pharma cargo theft attacks are on trucks, as opposed to products stored in warehouses, exacerbated by the continuing lack of secure vehicle parking, especially in Europe. Fraud and deception are also a feature, with bogus transport companies using fake documentation collect a load.

Additional security now is critical, stressed Mr Neumann.

“Our cargo crime data already shows that, even with the best efforts of industry, facilities storing and trucks delivering pharmaceuticals are targets for violent attacks, hijackings and robberies. This is why we expect to see an unprecedented supply chain security programme in place to protect deliveries of Covid vaccines which may include the use of armed escorts, additional truck security and driving in secure convoys, depending on the level of risk in each geography.

“Some countries may even be considering military support to ensure vaccine deliveries are not delayed. TAPA is also ready to offer any help we can.”

An estimated 7-19 billion doses of the vaccine will be required to eradicate Covid-19 globally, enabling 60-70% of the global population to gain immunity and to stop the virus from spreading.

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