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CJ Logistics floated for vaccine distribution

With largest logistics network, CJ Logistics rises as a potential player, but lacks cold chain system of competitors

CJ Logistics has been carrying pharmaceutical products for 20 years (CJ Logistics)
CJ Logistics has been carrying pharmaceutical products for 20 years (CJ Logistics)
As eyes turn toward the imminent start of COVID-19 inoculations, CJ Logistics has emerged as a candidate for vaccine distribution.

CJ Logistics had been considered at a disadvantage, as it does not have an ultra-cold-chain storage like Korea SuperFreeze in Pyeongtaek. But recent reports have suggested it may still be in the running, as it has the widest network of distribution centers and vehicles.

A company official who spoke to The Korea Herald said CJ would be able to handle vaccines as they are packaged in temperature-controlled containers.

Although CJ Logistics is best known for transporting general commercial goods, it has been running a separate business for pharmaceuticals since 2001. In this line of business, pharmaceuticals are stored and transported at set temperatures.

Last September, the nation’s seasonal flu vaccination campaign hit a snag when millions of doses were exposed to temperatures out of safe ranges during the delivery process due to a mishandling issue. CJ Logistics then took over the baton to distribute the subsequent batches of flu vaccines, according to industry insiders.

CJ Logistics’ pharma transportation chain starts from the main storage hub in Dongtan, Gyeonggi Province, spreading out to 11 nationwide distribution centers in Seoul; Namyangju and Dongtan in Gyeonggi Province; Wonju and Gangneung in Gangwon Province; Daejeon; Gwangju; Hayang, North Gyeongsang Province; Haman, South Gyeongsang Province; Busan and Jeju Island.

Annually, CJ Logistics transports some 7.2 million boxes of pharmaceutical goods all-year-round, according to a CJ Logistics official.

Taking orders from wholesalers that manage global pharmaceutical products, CJ Logistics does not keep statistics on what drugs they carry.

But as biological medicines always come in special refrigerated containers, they estimate that vaccines or blood plasma-related drugs account for some 300,000 boxes of the 7.2 million pharmaceutical boxes they deliver.

The pharmaceuticals delivery business is a fraction of the size of CJ Logistics’ main business. For ordinary deliveries, CJ Logistics in 2019 carried 1.2 billion to 1.3 billion boxes.

Yongma Logis, a touted pharmaceuticals transporter that carries some 70 percent of domestic pharmaceuticals, is confident that its status as the leading pharmaceuticals transporter will not be dented by CJ Logistics.

CJ Logistics may have the biggest infrastructure as a delivery company, but Yongma Logis has specialized in pharmaceuticals transportation since the company was founded in 1983.

Yongma Logis has distribution centers in 35 locations throughout the country, including Jeju Island.

The company said its recent mock operation of distributing the vaccine with technology firm Samsung SDS and Korea SuperFreeze went off without a hitch.

Samsung SDS has the technology to keep track of the moving vaccines and any changes in temperatures. Korea SuperFreeze has the ultra-cold-chain storage of minus 60 degrees Celsius and minus 80 degrees Celsius, which they say would be suitable for Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA’s vaccine that requires a storage temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Another pharmaceuticals transporter GC LabCell also says that it is ready to deliver should the government announce a guideline. GC LabCell has experience in transporting the majority of COVID-19 test samples in suspected cases across the country. Its vehicles are equipped with internet-of-things trackers that allow real-time monitoring of temperatures and locations. A GC LabCell official told The Korea Herald that the company is ready to sprint when the whistle is blown.

All of these companies are awaiting the government’s call on the matter.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (