On Saturday morning, warehouses and distribution centres in the 27 EU member states will open up their stock of Coviod-19 vaccine.
To make that possible, a fleet of 600 trucks has already begun transporting millions of Covid-19 vaccines from the Pfizer factory in Puurs to the four corners of Europe.
The trucks bear the insignia of H. Essers, a family firm based in Genk in Limburg province, and the operation to transport what is one of the most valuable cargoes ever will be carried out under tight security, and state-of-the-art logistics.
Essers has a long history of working with Pfizer, as well as a number of other pharmaceutical companies. “We can hardly wait to start putting that know-how into practice for such an historic moment as this,” CEO Gert Bervoets told De Tijd.
“Since 2006, our company has been developing a highly specialised pharmaceutical network in Europe for the often complex transport of sensitive pharmaceutical products. In combination with our high-security trailers, we can make the safe and temperature-controlled transport of the vaccines possible.”
One feature of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first to receive approval in Europe, is that it has to be maintained at a temperature between -60°C and -80°C until it reaches its destination, where it has to be thawed out before being administered.
Essers will only transport the vaccines to airports and distribution centres nominated by the EU members states themselves. The final stage, or last mile delivery, will be undertaken by the member states.
The Essers trucks are not only temperature-controlled, they are also under constant surveillance by the company’s control tower. There, a staff working 24/7 is able to pinpoint the position of any truck in the fleet, as well as monitor its temperature. The trailers are also equipped with other sensors and systems the company is not willing to discuss for security reasons.
At the beginning of this week, Interpol boss Jürgen Stock told the German business magazine Wirtschaftswoche to expect huge criminal interest in the cargo of the ‘liquid gold’.
“The vaccine is the liquid gold of our time. It is the most valuable thing to be distributed in the coming year. The mafia and other criminal organisations have already prepared for this. As vaccines roll out, vaccine crime will increase dramatically. We will see thefts and break-ins in warehouses and robberies on vaccine shipments.”
One feature that can be discussed is the main lock. Each trailer is hermetically sealed from the moment it leaves the loading dock at Pfizer until it reaches its final destination. Only then, under the watchful eye of the control tower, can the driver ask for the code that unlocks the cargo.
“Our road transports of Pfizer vaccines are escorted by external security firms, as is the case with cash transports, for example,” explained the company’s pharmaceuticals director Joris Mertens. “The international police organization Interpol, among others, warned this month about the risk of theft of corona vaccines.”
In some member states, additional security will be provided for what is being called the ‘liquid gold’ by police or military.