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Global deployment of the COVID-19 booster vaccine

In the run up to Christmas 2021, the FCDO Services Logistics team supported the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to deliver the COVID-19 booster vaccine to Posts across the globe.

The FCDO needed the boosters to arrive at Posts before Christmas for countries with a high prevalence of the Omicron variant in order for staff to be vaccinated in line with the accelerated UK rollout response. Logistically this was an enormous challenge. In order to speed up delivery timescales, a call for couriers was sent out to FCDO staff, with 170 people volunteering to be Casual Couriers.

Putting a framework in place

The Logistics team had the task of training the new couriers to ensure they understood their responsibilities and had the necessary information to fulfil their role successfully. It was crucial to carry this out as the security of the diplomatic bags is paramount at all times along with complying with the policies which must be observed in transit.

FCDO Services worked closely with several departments and agencies including the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the Department for Health and Social Care, and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). Our drivers had to travel back and forth to Liverpool to collect the booster vaccines and bring them to Hanslope Park.

There, the team worked overnight to pack the booster shots, along with syringes needed to administer them, into Diplomatic Bags. From Hanslope Park the vaccines departed for one of three routes. Depending on their destination, they were either driven to King Charles Street in London to be given to Couriers, directly to airports to meet a plane, or sent across to our Frankfurt Logistics Hub.

Working against the clock

One of the main challenges around transporting the vaccines was that they had to be transported from Liverpool to their final destination within 83 hours, and kept at a specific, constant temperature while in transit. Moderna needed to be kept at -20°C, and Pfizer between -60 and -70°C. The differing temperatures between the vaccine storage meant a different approach was required for each.

While Moderna vaccines could be placed into cardboard boxes with gel packs inside to maintain the right temperature, before being put into the Diplomatic Bags, the Pfizer vaccines were more difficult to transport due to the temperature requirement.

They had to be transported with 12.5 kg of dry ice per 1170 vaccine dose pack, and due to aircraft hazardous labelling regulations, the Pfizer vaccine could not be  be transported in Diplomatic Bags. Commercial routes were required to send these instead, and as soon as the plane touched down, trained couriers rushed to deliver them to their final destinations. This all required meticulous planning and pre-arranged Customs clearance to ensure the vaccines could pass swiftly through airports to reach Posts as soon as possible.

Once delivered to Post and put into freezers or thawed, the data captured by temperature monitors inside the boxes was sent to our team to be checked before the vaccine could be released for use. If the vaccine wasn’t the right temperature, it could not be used.

Route planning varied for different destinations

COVID-19 caused constant changes to routes and varying country restrictions affected how vaccines were delivered to Posts. Outbreaks among staff at Post impacted deliveries, and in some countries lockdowns meant couriers could not leave the plane,and had to hand over the vaccines to FCDO staff on the tarmac.

Our teams used many routes they don’t normally use, in order to overcome restrictions, which made route planning much more challenging. Our regional model, and the experienced team running the operation was a significant contributor to the success of the programme and enabled us to utilise volunteers and Queen’s Messengers.

Regular meetings with key stakeholders were held to plan logistics and respond to any developments. Our team delivered weekly briefings to the FCDO’s Director-General, Finance and Corporate, Juliet Chua, on the progress of the rollout programme.

The success of this project was down to excellent communication, the agile approach and collaborative effort of many colleagues across our organisation.

“Without the expertise of FCDO Services’ Logistical Team we would not have been able to reach staff at over 100 locations with booster vaccinations. They were an excellent delivery partner, working with our prioritisation and keeping us appraised of the challenges and solutions, all while going the extra mile to reach some very difficult locations.”

Head of Health and Welfare, FCDO