One of the main issues discussed in Brazil is the difficulty of importing vaccines. Although the acute crisis of oxygen shortage in Manaus seems to have been temporarily overcome and the race for vaccination against Covid-19 has already started in Brazil, the complications that the two cases had in the country revealed the complexity behind a logistical operation that affects a long chain of procedures.
In the case of oxygen cylinders, in addition to the transportation time and customs clearance, the fact that the product is a dangerous cargo weighs.
The vaccines transport has characteristics that do not allow any kind of error or delay, such as storage with temperature control below -30ºC and obtaining the import license.
"About the oxygen cylinders, considering that it is a product imported from the USA and the availability of the cargo by the seller, the importation process is around 30 to 40 days, which is unthinkable in situations similar to Manaus. It gets more complicated when we see that what happened there can be repeated in other Brazilian states," explains Pedro Rodrigo de Souza, operations manager of the Pinho Group.
Another complicating factor, according to Souza, is that oxygen in the refrigerated liquid state, as it is normally imported and transported, is considered a dangerous cargo, because when it comes into contact with other fuels, or through friction, it can cause an explosion.
"In addition, liquid oxygen is at a very low temperature and when in contact with human tissues causes severe frostbite. It is worth noting that the handling of hazardous cargo should only be carried out by companies duly authorized by the control agencies. All this greatly increases the price of transport, which ends up burdening the import process, because the freight is component of the bases of calculation of federal taxes," he says.
Normally the national production of oxygen is sufficient to meet the demand.
In recent months, however, this demand has exploded, making it necessary to acquire the products abroad. The advantage, according to Souza, is that the entry of items to combat Covid-19 has priority treatment in the queues of analysis of the processes of the consenting bodies and the IRS.
In early February, for example, arrived a shipment of about 60 thousand cubic meters of oxygen arrived in Manaus. The input came from Venezuela and was passed on to the oxygen supplying company of Amazonas to meet the demand of the state.
With vaccines, the scenario for the future is more worrying, because in addition to the lack of inputs, which take a long time to arrive in Brazil, there is also a disorder in the logistics processes.
"Although our country is internationally known for vaccine logistics, there is an apparent lack of alignment and planning to address the complexity of operations. The logistics of these products must be conducted flawlessly and in sync. Considering the size of the country and that not all carriers and airports are adequate to this degree of demand, it is a huge challenge to make all companies, people and transportation work together," he says.
Another difficulty, according to Souza, is in the process of obtaining registration of the vaccine and permission to use the product with Anvisa, something that directly impacts the bureaucratic process of importation.
"The product needs to go through a series of laboratory approvals before obtaining registration. After obtaining it, the process follows the normal customs procedures, with import licensing and subsequent customs clearance. And as we have seen, all of this takes a considerable amount of time.
To speed up this time, the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) approved a resolution that waives the registration and authorization for emergency use of vaccines acquired by the Ministry of Health at the Covax Facility, a vaccine availability consortium linked to the World Health Organization.
The federal government expects to receive 42.5 million doses through the consortium by the end of the year. "Our role is to ensure that, once the steps of registration and authorization for use by the importer have been completed, the customs procedures for obtaining import licensing and customs clearance take place as quickly as possible," Souza explains.