Vaccine logistics are more than a matter of cooling
Transforming cold-chain infrastructure
Ensuring an end-to-end unbroken cold chain is going to be the most difficult aspect of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The methods currently used for transporting are not sufficient for this particular case. Normally, vaccines are stored between 2-8 °C. As for BioNTech, to keep the vaccines at a temperature level of -70 °C, they require ultra-cold freezers to prevent them from spoilage. To transport the vaccine, it must be stored in glass vials, which are then placed into special shipping boxes with dry ice. 975 vials fit into each of the boxes, which are roughly the size of a suitcase. Special tracking devices equipped with thermo-sensors guarantee constant monitoring 24/7 as these vaccine boxes are shipped across the globe. When the boxes arrive at the hospitals, health care workers have various options: first of all, they can put the vaccine into an ultra-cold freezer, which allows them to store it for up to six months. If they do not have one of these freezers, they can take the vials out of this ultra-cold shipping box and put it into a regular refrigerator. Those vaccines would have to be used within 5 days. The last option is that they can keep the vials in those special boxes as temporary storage for up to 15 days, as long as they keep refilling it with dry ice.
Researchers usually spend a lot of time testing vaccine stability to understand the conditions under which they can be safely stored and transported. Given its urgency, the development of COVID-19 vaccines has moved at such an unprecedented pace that researchers were fully focused on safety and efficacy to get them approved and distributed as soon as possible.
It needs more than one vaccine to beat COVID-19
Worldwide distribution: a Herculean effort for logistics companies
Within two years, 10 billion vaccine doses need to be delivered globally to successfully fight and end the pandemic. The sheer volume and its urgency to be delivered is challenging. During the entire transport, the vaccines must be stored properly from the time they are manufactured until they are administered. Any exposure to higher temperatures could reduce or even destroy the vaccine’s potency. According to Biopharma, up to 10 % of vaccines are lost in transit due to breakage or fluctuations in wrong temperatures required for preservation. A loss of the valuable vaccine would be fatal, especially in times like these.
Safely delivering COVID-19 vaccines – a mission of the century
The focus of COVID-19 vaccine distribution so far has been on storage capacity and the ability to deliver at the correct temperature – but security will also be crucial. A thought that is uncomfortable, but not unthinkable: theft. The vaccine is a highly sought-after commodity. Especially at the beginning with the first vaccine shipments, the demand will be higher than the available stock. The desire for health and normality makes the vaccine attractive for black market trade, particularly in countries with high rates of cargo or pharmaceutical theft, such as Brazil, Mexico, India, Italy and Russia. According to Safemedicine.org, pharmaceutical theft is a growing problem and costs the industry as much as $30 billion annually.
So what can be done to avoid pharmaceutical cargo theft? The solution to ensuring that distribution takes place according to plan, is to provide seamless visibility over a supply chain from end to end. Usually, the risk for theft is greatest while shipments are in transit. Therefore, distributors should track every movement of the vaccine shipments, from the manufacturer down to its destination. Particular attention should be paid to areas that are prone to higher risk, such as last-mile delivery. Active tracking solutions like Kizy’s K-2 supply chain tracker are required to provide instant notification as soon as there is a derivation of the prescribed route or unauthorized opening of the boxes. Furthermore, the inventory must be controlled and tracked at all times.
How COVID-19 shapes the future of pharma logistics
The coronavirus breakout has highlighted the fragility of global supply chains, underlining that the failure of one link in the chain has the potential to cause widespread disruption throughout. The complexity of the topic showed that it needs careful advance planning from all sides: governments, too, must facilitate cooperation across the logistics chain, so security arrangements and border processes are ready for the upcoming monumental task.
Logistics management is a continuous cycle of innovation, shaped by the requirement of the economy to overcome gaps. The effort put into stable supply chains and the expertise gained for logistics will also be useful beyond the pandemic.