The weight of transporting a COVID-19 vaccine is one of the rare times in trucking when we’re not talking about a unit of measure.
“The vaccine launch in mid- December was like a moon landing as a historic event,” said Andrew Boyle, co president of Boyle Transportation, a Massachusetts based carrier specializing in life-saving medicines and critical military material. Boyle was one of the first carriers to transport the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer’s global supply manufacturing plant to distribution points across the country. “It’s safe to say we were glued to the TV, and to see town folk clapping, cheering, and crying as our truck went by was an inspiring moment. But what was really rewarding was the skilled blue-collar workers and logistics professionals being highlighted as essential to perhaps the most important medical launch in our lifetimes.”
For Boyle Transportation, the gravity of the cargo was felt more in its place in history than the demands of hauling such sensitive cargo. So it wasn’t so much a case of stepping up to the COVID-19 vaccine plate as it was letting the professionals, who do these important jobs day in and day out, have their time in the spotlight.
“When you looked at the people in reflective vests that day who were loading the product–the professional truck drivers, the air cargo handlers, and ultimately the package delivery drivers–for them to all have their role highlighted was extremely gratifying,” he said. “We assigned that first pickup to one of our very experienced female professional drivers named Bonnie. We wanted to emphasize the role of women in trucking.”
Hauling life-saving medical supplies is all in a day’s work at Boyle Transportation. The best practices, technology, and equipment that make these all-important deliveries possible have long been established at the company.
“People should take comfort in the fact that this type of operation happens every day even without a pandemic,” Boyle said. “The capabilities of transportation, logistics, and service providers in networks already exist. When it comes to packaging, there are skilled and talented packaging engineers and providers of cold chain solutions. For us, it’s business as usual, but that’s not usual for most motor carriers. We had all of the capabilities and the protocols established to transport the vaccine, so we didn’t have to create anything new.”
Boyle Transportation leverages proprietary technology to track and report on sensitive shipments. For its reefer trailer specs, the Boyle team leans on its partnership with Great Dane dealers to make sure its trailer equipment will meet its high expectations.
“We’ve had a longstanding relationship for 30 years or so with Northeast Great Dane, and they know our business very well,” Boyle said. “Having a relationship like this enables them to help advance our fleet through continually improving specifications that meet or exceed the client’s expectations. We rely heavily on the dealer to know our business and spec equipment with premium specifications to minimize downtime because when we’re transporting critical goods, failure’s not an option. The fact that we’ve never had a trailer fail is a testament to the high-quality product that Great Dane sells us.”
Cold-chain transportation is high-stakes hauling. The COVID-19 vaccine needs to be kept at a cool and constant -70 degrees C. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 50% of vaccines are wasted globally every year the lack of temperature control and logistics support being a prime driver.
Connecting Links in the Cold Chain with the Right Technology
For Boyle Transportation, no loss of cargo is acceptable.
“It’s not adequate to simply show up to a pharmaceutical client with a temperature-controlled trailer and say, ‘I’m ready to haul your product,’” noted Andrew Boyle, co-president, Boyle Transport.
“First, we have to go through an extensive validation process where we perform a thermal mapping study on the vehicle–this takes about 30 to 40 hours. Then, we do a heavy data analysis to determine each pallet space is being conditioned appropriately.” From there, it’s an unbroken chain of digital zeroes and ones that prove the cold chain integrity is consistent throughout the load’s journey.
“We have multiple probes throughout the trailer, as well as the temp control unit; we use telematics systems to report that information into our headquarters,” Boyle explained, noting that proprietary software provides clients with email status notifications and a website where they can see the shipment move in two-minute intervals.
“The truck is overlaid on a Google map and clients can see not only its route, but also its temperature history, and they can see it on their desktop or mobile device,” Boyle said. “They also get a PDF temperature and position history of the shipment including graphical representation. We invest heavily in a software product that distills it down to what’s meaningful to the client.”
The trucking industry as a whole wrestles with the driver shortage, but Boyle Transportation continually invests in our most important assets – our people. The company has been named one of the top 20 fleets to drive for in North America by the Truckload Carriers Association and was named the top fleet overall in 2020, which is no small feat in a normal year and definitely a huge accomplishment as the world adapted to the pandemic.