FedEx to ship COVID-19 vaccines across the United States
Following the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the US, FedEx has begun the transportation of the vaccine using its FedEx Priority Overnight® service supported by FedEx Priority Alert® advanced monitoring.
Vaccine distribution will be balanced among major cargo carriers, with FedEx working closely with healthcare customers to prepare for additional vaccine shipments and the transportation of critical vaccine-related supplies.
“This is among the most important work in the history of our company, and we’re honored to be a part of the effort to help end this pandemic. I am immensely proud of our dedicated team members who continue to go above and beyond to help ensure the safe movement of these critical COVID-19 vaccines, especially during our busiest holiday shipping season to date. This is who we are and what we do at FedEx,” commented Raj Subramaniam, president and chief operating officer, FedEx Corp
Being well positioned to handle the COVID-19 vaccine shipment with its temperature-control solutions, near real-time monitoring capabilities and dedicated healthcare team, the transportation of the vaccine is the next phase of ongoing pandemic relief support not only in the US, but around the world.
“We are one of the few companies with the global network and capabilities to keep critical supply chains moving during this unprecedented time. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, FedEx has delivered more than 55 kilotons of personal protective equipment, including more than two billion face masks, and more than 9,600 humanitarian aid shipments around the globe,” added Don Colleran, president and chief executive officer, FedEx Express.
In order to reach underserved communities with the COVID-19 vaccine, FedEx has committed US$4mn in cash and in-kind transportation support to several nonprofits in the US and around the world, including Direct Relief, International Medical Corps, and Heart to Heart International.
“Time-definite express transportation of critical shipments is exactly what our FedEx Express network was built to do when it launched in 1973. Almost five decades later, we are proving true to our founding mission by delivering critical COVID-19 vaccines,” commented Richard W. Smith, regional president of the Americas and executive vice president of global support, FedEx Express.
“This is a historic moment and represents a monumental feat for vaccine development and expedient deployment. Outstanding logistics is critical to get our products to those who need them across the country, and we’re happy to partner with FedEx in this historic effort to save lives and put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic,” concluded Mike McDermott, president, Pfizer Global Supply.
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector