Vaccine for Berlin

Fighting the pandemic with vaccine, PPE, and intelligent logistics. Berlin’s senate is procuring its vaccine logistics services from a tried and true partner: DACHSER’s Berlin Schönefeld branch.

Vaccine for Berlin
Vaccine for Berlin

“It’s all really quite unbelievable, but we managed it by working as a team.” Looking back at last year and the past few months of this one, Olaf Schmidt still feels amazed, yet content. He is General Manager of DACHSER’s Berlin Brandenburg logistics center in Schönefeld, and his COVID-19 pandemic story is about a race against time and how intelligent logistics are ensuring people have a reliable supply of PPE and vaccines.

But let’s begin at the beginning. In mid-May last year, Berlin’s senate administration approached DACHSER’s Berlin Brandenburg logistics center to quickly organize the storage and distribution of masks and other PPE. “Immediate action was imperative,” Schmidt recalls, citing this as one of the reasons why DACHSER was the obvious choice. By the end of June, the logistics center was in a position to agree to store 130 sea containers. In July, these were joined by three Boeing 747 aircraft. “In the space of four weeks, we suddenly had 8,000 new pallets in the warehouse,” Schmidt says. 

“But that was just the beginning,” says Falk Wenk, Contract Logistics Manager at DACHSER’s Berlin Brandenburg logistics center. “By January 2021, the number of stored pallets had risen to 11,000, and managing the situation took all of our expertise and ingenuity.” Wenk says that storing and distributing PPE, masks, and rapid test kits was quintessential contract logistics. “DACHSER is well-practiced at performing these processes—even when capacity utilization is high. But then the vaccines appeared.”       

An appeal from the senate administration

On December 27, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the first round of vaccines. Anticipating this decision, Berlin’s senate administration had already approached DACHSER on December 7: “‘We’ve got a problem...,’ that’s how the conversation began,” Schmidt says. “‘But you’ve got a logistics system that’s already helped us with PPE. Do you think you could  also use it to manage a vaccine warehouse?’ Vaccine logistics were a challenge, with many unknowns for everybody—there wasn’t any kind of blueprint to follow,” Schmidt says. “The first issue we faced was that a pharmaceutical company needed to store its vaccines in a warehouse guarded by the German armed forces. Among the features of the warehouse are ultra-deep freezers that can maintain temperatures of minus 75 °C. We then used DACHSER’s Mikado warehouse management system to organize the warehousing processes and get going with deliveries. We were also responsible for procuring suitable cooling boxes for transporting the vaccines to Berlin’s six vaccination centers, to hospital pharmacies, and to mobile vaccination teams.” At the same time, DACHSER continued to deliver PPE as well as much-needed rapid test kits to schools.

We’re delighted to use our logistics expertise to do our part to help society and fight the pandemic.

Schmidt says that this all demanded a massive organizational effort that included holding daily conferences with all participants in Berlin’s vaccination project, collaborating with pharmaceutical companies, and coordinating police escorts for the delivery vehicles.

Not only did the vaccines always have to reach the vaccination centers safely and under the controlled conditions required for pharmaceuticals, it was essential that each batch could be traced. To ensure these criteria were met, DACHSER used its Domino logistics production system to manage overland transportation and Mikado for warehousing. “These were the prerequisites for a controlled vaccine logistics process and for predictive planning of vaccine distribution,” Schmidt says. “When we were delivering the round of first doses, we were already factoring in and reserving capacity for delivery of the round of second doses.”            

Cooling boxes for vaccine transportation
Cooling boxes for vaccine transportation

Cool solutions from the workshop

To meet the demands of vaccine logistics, DACHSER’s Berlin Schönefeld branch had to quickly procure around 150 cooling boxes for transporting pharmaceuticals. This was made possible thanks to a long-standing customer relationship. Since the boxes feature cool packs that have to be reconditioned over 48 hours, DACHSER immediately positioned a refrigerated swap body inside the warehouse. “Cooling the packs can take up a lot of space and our workshop staff produced custom-made racks for this purpose. They also came up with clever separators for between the cool packs as a way to perfect handling as well as reconditioning. It was wonderful to see every member of our team doing their part,” Schmidt says.

That vaccine logistics is in many ways a testing task during a pandemic is evident even beyond guarded warehouses and escorted transports. In March, a van belonging to a vaccine manufacturer broke down, causing deliveries to back up, and the tabloids lost no time in declaring “vaccine chaos!” “But neither we nor our part of the supply chain had anything to do with that,” Schmidt says. By now, he’s really just amused by this short-lived uproar in the media. “DACHSER is definitely attracting more attention in Berlin and not just because of this project,” Schmidt says, adding proudly: “We’re delighted to use our logistics expertise to do our part to help society and fight the pandemic.”    

Contact Katrine Cheng