The arrival and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine will not be that dissimilar to a new smartphone launch: A significant event that is marked by limited supply with increased product demand, potentially creating a grey market for supplies, particularly in countries with high rates of cargo theft.
This kind of large-scale, near-simultaneous delivery of a new product will strain demand for specialized transportation resources, such as refrigerated air and truck cargo carriers, which are already in relatively short supply. The 2020 coronavirus outbreak around the world highlighted the fragility of global supply chains, underscoring how the failure of one link in the chain has the potential to cause extensive disruptions throughout. This burst of activity and demand, once vaccine producers are ready to ship, will create openings for providers of transportation and warehouse facilities that may have poor security practices. The rush to market with large quantities of the inoculation will make it difficult for manufacturers to vet all their suppliers.
Regrettably, the vaccine is likely to be heavily targeted for theft for a few reasons. First, there will likely not be enough supply in the early stages of distribution. Second, the substance will be ultra-high-profile. That hunger means there will be a black market ready in countries that may be getting later vaccine distribution, or in places where the vaccine is likely to be more expensive or desired by populations (like nonessential workers) designated as lower-priority to receive vaccines. We know that these black and grey markets — facilitated by fake wholesalers and organized theft rings — already exist for oncology, arthritis and other drugs that don’t seem like obvious targets. So, they will likely exist for a COVID-19 vaccine.