Iteration, for Good: How Project Last Mile is Supporting COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution in Africa and Beyond

Iteration, for Good: How Project Last Mile is Supporting COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution in Africa and Beyond


Over the last decade, Project Last Mile has leveraged the Coca‑Cola system’s supply chain, logistics and marketing capabilities to expand access to HIV and malaria medicines across Africa. Now, the coalition of public-private partners—which includes The Coca‑Cola Company, The Coca‑Cola Foundation, PEPFAR, USAID, The Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—is working behind the scenes to help speed distribution and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines across the continent. 

Only 2% of total vaccination doses administered globally have been in Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Most countries received their first vaccine shipments only weeks in late-February or early March, and in small quantities. To date, 1% of the continent’s population has been vaccinated.

To help bridge this gap, The Coca‑Cola Foundation recently awarded a $2 million grant to Project Last Mile—$1 million for South Africa and $1 million for additional countries across the continent—as part of the foundation’s $20 million “Stop the Spread” fund. An additional $500,000 grant from The Coca‑Cola Foundation will support COVAX, a program co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines tests and treatments in the world’s poorest countries. 

Project Last Mile and USAID work with South Africa’s National Department of Health (NDH) to design and operationalize a dispensing and distribution model for HIV antiretroviral (ARV) treatments. More than 3 million people get their ARVs from 3,000 pickup points across the country. 

When the Beta variant of the coronavirus triggered a surge in infections in late-2020, the Coca‑Cola system in South Africa engaged Project Last Mile to identify ways the Coca‑Cola system could help government leverage private sector support to facilitate a mass vaccine rollout. Now, the Delta variant is sweeping across the continent.

“Emergency response in a pandemic requires trusted partners you can turn to quickly for help,” said Adrian Ristow, project director, Project Last Mile. “We’ve built a deep understanding of how medical commodities move around South Africa, and our experience enables us to be faciltators between public sector needs and private sector assistance. Our vision is to identify and facilitate practical ways the Coca‑Cola system can help accelerate vaccine distribution in Africa.”

While Coca‑Cola will not actually deliver the vaccines, teams will help connect government agencies with private sector and NGO partners and offer data and strategic, logistical and technical support on everything from transportation and warehousing, to supply chain and marketing. For example, Project Last Mile has shared GPS coordinates for retail pharmacies, private clinics and other potential vaccination locations and an audit of the Coke system’s dry ice capacity in 70 COVAX countries—including South Arican and Eswathini—for potential ultra-cold chain vaccine distribution.

The crux of the current challenge remains availability. “We’re seeing tremendous willingness from the private sector across the continent, but there simply have not been enough vaccines at this stage to require a mass private sector intervention,” Ristow adds. “As soon as supply arrives, the government should be able to help get shots in arms quickly because the collective public and private sector teams have had time to prepare and plan. We see South African and Eswatini as test cases and, our learnings in these countries will help us continue to refine the Project Last Mile approach across the continent.”

Project Last Mile and Coca‑Cola teams also are working to help develop and distribute COVID-19 awareness communications promoting preventative protocals like hand washing and social distancing, with a focus on HIV-positive communities who are especially vulnerable to life-threatening infections. Non-pharmaceutical interventions like these are vital to avoid surges especially as vaccine administration is slow.

Lift and Shift

Project Last Mile’s COVID-19 impact has extended beyond Africa. At the onset of the pandemic, Coca‑Cola teams across Latin America connected with colleagues in Africa to explore how they could tailor the Project Last Mile framework and learnings based on country-specific vaccine distribution needs, as well as local capabilities and resources. 

In Colombia, Coca‑Cola supported a government-led social media strategy to encourage citizens to get vaccinated and combat misinformation through educational videos, jingles, point-of-sale posters and influencer amplification. The President of Colombia publicly launched the campaign in March.

Additional support in Latin America includes helping to fund shipment and delivery of the first cargo of vaccines arriving in Peru and donating 100 tablets to government-operated vaccination locations in the Dominican Republic. Coca‑Cola also is partnering with the Red Cross to develop and support a $1 million regional vaccine awareness campaign supported by the “Stop the Spread” fund. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Latin America harder than other parts of the world,” said Ángela Zuluaga, SVP, Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability, Coca‑Cola Latin America. “While Latin America represents only 8.2% of the world’s population, it represents a bigger proportion of COVID-19 cases and related deaths. As governments throughout the region mobilize to broadly promote, distribute and administer vaccines to people in local communities, we saw a clear opportunity to live out our purpose and use our global scale for leadership and for good.”

Ristow said Project Last Mile continues to consult with Coca‑Cola teams around the world, including in hard-hit markets like India. 

“As more Coca‑Cola teams around the world come to understand our work, we are getting requests for insight on how to leverage our NGO and private sector partners to support COVID efforts,” he concluded. “We’re helping them think through how to create a model that makes it easier to partner with government at such a critical time by leveraging both the capabilities, resources and networks of the Coca‑Cola system.”

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