The COVID Logistics Puzzle: How To Transport Vaccines Around Hot, Humid Philippines

Acquiring vaccines is one challenge, transporting them is another. How do we safely transport vaccines that need to be kept cooler than Antarctic temperatures?

In a country of 7,107 islands perpetually bathed in tropical heat, transporting perishable goods has always been difficult. In agriculture, for instance, gaps in the cold chain such as a lack of freezers at post-harvest facilities have resulted in food spoilage, reducing the incomes of farmers and fishermen. That’s why when it was announced that vaccines have to be stored between regular fridge temperatures and -70C, health experts had every reason to be concerned.

But according to Coolaire President and CEO Jerry Tugade and his sons Joel and Patrick, both of whom help their father run the family business, we already have a big piece of the COVID logistics puzzle solved. We don’t have to look far for a transport solution. In fact, we already see the technology daily on our city streets.

The answer is to use refrigerated vans.

“The scale requires these [vaccines] to be in place in all parts of the country to benefit the 110 million Filipinos waiting to be inoculated,” says Jerry. “The government has already begun partnering with private companies who can provide the climate-controlled warehousing for the products, but to distribute it from one place to another under the right temperature conditions represents a bottleneck that can be solved by procuring COVID-ready refrigerated vans, such as those produced by Coolaire.”

Refrigerated vans are a practical logistics choice for the vaccines. They’re more cost-friendly than building a network of climate-controlled warehouses, and more mobile than specialized tractor-trailers. As distribution moves from cities to rural areas—especially in towns without cold chain storage facilities—the speed and carrying capacity of refrigerated vans will be crucial if the goal is to get even the most far-flung Filipinos vaccinated.

As for the technology that keeps the vaccines from spoiling, Joel says they have it. Coolaire has 50 years of engineering experience, working with clients from different industries including food and pharmaceuticals. Each van is customized to meet unique storage and transport requirements. For the vaccines, the vans are equipped with proprietary tech that can create temperatures of up to -70C, ensuring that even Pfizer’s high-maintenance boosters will not go to waste. 

“Using correct and calibrated refrigeration equipment is vital in the process of distribution, all the way to inoculation,” says Joel. “These specialized equipment are engineered by Coolaire to bring the temperature down to -70C, making it applicable for all brands of COVID vaccines.”

An effective logistics system not only has to have the machines to deliver the goods, but also have support that ensures the machines are always in tip-top shape. With the vaccination period lasting months, if not, longer, LGUs will have to consider technical and engineering support when procuring refrigerated vans. Patrick explains that Coolaire’s after-service locations in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao can readily handle any emergencies that pop up, reducing delays and bottlenecks in vaccine distribution.

“To the LGU and operators, this means that for any technical issue, help is only one call away,” he says. “To the Filipino people, this means peace of mind.”

The COVID logistics puzzle is taking shape, but it is not yet complete. In truly remote areas where there are no airports, ports, or even roads, the IATF will still have to come up with a last-mile plan (one possible solution could be solar-powered cold “backpacks” which are now being tested out in Africa). But for the majority of the population, Patrick confidently says that their refrigerated vans can get the job done.

“For the past half century, Coolaire has been making its clients happy,” concludes Jerry. “In this upheaval we’re all in, we know our technology and cold chain experience can also deliver happiness to the rest of the country.”