Leveraging the Coca-Cola system’s best practices to support COVID-19 vaccine supply and demand

In the Coca-Cola system, there’s an informal saying that goes, “If it’s not cold, it’s not sold”. This saying underpins the need for the beverage manufacturer’s drive to maintain an effective cold chain down to the last mile. In the Kingdom of Eswatini in southern Africa, Project Last Mile is leveraging Coca-Cola system best practices in route-to-market, cold chain, and strategic marketing to strengthen supply and demand for COVID-19 vaccines, strategically collaborating with partners across workstreams to improve uptake and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines down to the last mile.

Since early 2021, through funding from USAID and The Coca-Cola Foundation, Project Last Mile has supported the Ministry of Health, Central Medical Stores, and partners in Eswatini to apply private sector expertise in route-to-market, cold chain, and demand generation to strengthen the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines nationally.

Themba Motsa, the Director of the Central Medical Stores, says that the second wave of COVID-19 left everyone in his department overwhelmed. They were grateful for an offer from USAID for Project Last Mile to assist with cold chain, strategic planning and coordination, and strengthening ultra-cold chain readiness.

“COVID-19 was new. Coordinating partners and planning how to roll out the vaccine covering almost the country’s total population was a huge task,” he says. “The arrival of Project Last Mile was such a relief for CMS because the focus was now on the supply chain. Project Last Mile took some of the responsibility from the Central Medical Stores. If there was an issue I didn’t know how to solve, there was a Technical Working Group meeting on Tuesday where I could share it. If there’s an issue that we must communicate with Pfizer, Astra Zeneca, UNICEF or WHO, I know Project Last Mile will handle those issues and report back. The Project Last Mile team was so good at managing partners. I’d find the Project Last Mile team had reached out to them before we could even reach out. That intelligence helped us to manage our requirements locally.”

Project Last Mile conducted a national cold chain audit leveraging a Coca-Cola system cold chain vendor, servicing over 95% of the Ministry of Health’s cold chain equipment in three months. Project Last Mile also provided strategic advisory services to strengthen ultra-cold chain storage readiness to store vaccines, like Pfizer BioNTech. These vaccines require storage at ultra-low temperatures up to -80C.

Coordinating collaboration

An important feature of Project Last Mile’s cold chain equipment program in Eswatini is the strategic coordination of partners working to distribute vaccines in the country. In this regard, the focus has been on addressing three common challenges faced in the delivery of vaccine solutions that result in inefficient vaccine arrival and transfer and vaccine wastage in the system:

  1. Limited visibility: Individual partners had limited insight into the rest of the supply chain, including what is needed for optimal interaction between partners, leading to inefficiency and challenges during execution. For example, problems arise when suppliers are not aware of system readiness for vaccine shipment.
  2. Working in silos: Without coordination, important supply chain elements may be misunderstood or overlooked in planning and execution, leading to inefficiency and other challenges during execution. For example, when it is unclear who is responsible for maintaining equipment, maintenance processes and oversight may not be adequately implemented.
  3. Risk mitigation: Many of the challenges faced in the vaccine readiness process span multiple supply chain elements and cannot be addressed by one partner alone. For example, risks to the system, such as electricity outages, may require innovative, multi-partner solutions.

Project Last Mile has led efforts to develop a reliable and sustainable collaboration platform for the partners engaged in vaccine handling, storage and distribution. This platform means each partner can see and track the efforts of other partners, collaborate when needed, and develop fit-for-purpose solutions to address the issues, challenges, and risks identified during the execution of the national vaccination programs.

These efforts include establishing a control center at the Ministry of Health, monitoring key performance indicators and reporting results, flagging risks and issues in vaccine distribution, and organizing regular review meetings with the partners to track progress and take timely action.

Actions and results

Project Last Mile worked with the Central Medical Stores and Expanded Program on Immunization to support coordination across partners working on cold chain and logistics. This included coordinating with Pfizer, UNICEF, WHO, and other partners to align COVID-19 vaccine roll-out efforts and troubleshoot challenges to minimize vaccine supply disruptions.

Project Last Mile also put in a maintenance program for the generators and refrigerators at Central Medical Stories to prevent vaccine spoilage due to power outages and equipment breakdown and conducted a lightning assessment to identify risks that may damage the cold chain equipment, working with partners to mitigate these.

Through Project Last Mile’s support, the Ministry of Health’s cold chain storage capacity has increased by 30%, enabling storage for up to 1.5 million vaccine doses. Furthermore, no vaccine doses have been wasted in-country due to cold chain failure or power interruptions.

“I don’t take the support of Project Last Mile in coordinating the partners for granted,” says Themba. “I could do more because Project Last Mile’s support was there.”

This initiative is funded and supported by USAID. The content and information provided on this website are the responsibility of Project Last Mile and are not official United States government information and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of USAID or the United States Government.