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Back Our Hidden Heroes – You can feel the relief that the vaccine has arrived

Distributing the COVID-19 vaccine is a complex operation that requires experts at every stage of the journey. However, these experts may never set foot anywhere near the vaccines themselves. That is not the case for Ingo Brottinger, National Department Manager for Expo and Events at Kuehne+Nagel, who not only arranges the local storage for vaccines, he also facilitates the last mile delivery.

Based at a major Event and Exposition hall in North-Western Germany, Ingo and his team expertly manage the import and distribution of vaccines for the region. “The material comes in and we make sure it gets to the right place,” Ingo says. Before the pandemic, this building was used for trade fairs. Today, expos and events have had to go virtual. This has allowed Ingo and his team to focus 100% on the vaccine response. In the face of a pandemic, all that matters is helping out and making it happen. From December 2020, the expo halls were repurposed for the special equipment, storage and infrastructure that the vaccines require.

Ingo and his team are responsible for unloading, installing and maintaining the Temperature Pods, the innovative solution that is essential for local distribution in densely populated areas, where there is not enough temperature-controlled storage to meet the needs in a certain region. These pods are specially fitted shipping containers that provide the necessary deep freeze cooling to keep the vaccines are regulation temperature.

Kuehne+Nagel designed the Temperature Pods to enable the vaccines to be in the right place at the right time, no matter what the local infrastructure is like. “It was exciting when they first arrived,” Ingo remembers. As this was new technology, the team had to learn quickly and install them quickly to keep the schedule. After installation, they began a ten-day stress test of the equipment. “It worked, and is still working perfectly” Ingo says, “as a team we made it all happen.”

The urgency that accompanied the development of the vaccines continues to dictate their distribution. “Naturally, pharma is different.” For Ingo, the best way to ensure a swift and secure distribution is by refining processes. For a start, there is more regulation, stricter hygiene and cold chain requirements, and higher security. For example, the day starts with a daily COVID test. However, the nature of the task is the same. “We do what we always do,” Ingo says. This means applying strict processes and following procedures. Ingo sums it up: “We get things delivered to us, and we take care of it.”

Another essential success factor is the tight collaboration between teams. Ingo works closely with colleagues responsible for the warehousing and the expo centre itself. They are in constant communication, to plan and share expertise. “It all just works really well together,” Ingo says, “we collaborate, technically and administratively.”

Ingo is fortunate that he can meet the people he is helping. He and his team deliver the vaccines to nursing homes, clinics and hospitals across the region.  “Everyone is friendly and welcomes you warmly,” Ingo says, “you can feel the relief that the vaccine has arrived.” Ingo also notices some nervousness, but nothing that a friendly chat can’t overcome: “When you talk about it, everyone gets really relaxed and happy.” This is the human core of the vaccine response, people supporting each other at every step.