Since the outbreak of the COVID-19, there has been an epic global effort to develop a vaccine for the virus. With a recent announcement made by Pfizer about the high efficacy of its vaccine for the COVID-19, the hopes have been raised that an end to this crisis might be in sight. However, developing a vaccine is one thing but supplying it across the globe is another thing. Here we explore if our global supply chain is ready for Pfizer’s vaccine with a storage requirement of -70 degree Celsius?
Distribution Challenge Of Vaccine By Pfizer
Pfizer’s potential COVID-19 vaccine needs to be stored at about -70 degrees Celsius, which is way colder than any vaccine that is presently used in the United States. The pharmacies, state labs, and doctor’s clinics don’t have freezers as of now that can store a vaccine at this low temperature.
Once the Food and Drug Administration grants emergency approval, Pfizer is gearing up to distribute the vaccine quickly. However, the distribution of the vaccine will be limited at first. The manufacturer’s recent projections show that an estimated 50 million doses will be ready by the end of this year.
Distributing a vaccine in itself is a monumental task, and one with such specific requirements will be challenging to the supply chain globally.
The Problem Faced By Pfizer
Any vaccine has to go from factories to shipping facilities to trucks to pharmacies, clinics, hospitals, and eventually to the people without budging from the specific temperature requirements. It’s the chain between the manufacturers and the hospitals/clinic, i.e., the cold chain represents one of the vaccine distribution process’s biggest challenges.
Vaccine by Pfizer requires -70 degree Celsius temperature for storage is projected to be viable for only ten days after it is manufactured. The company has developed transportation boxes that can accommodate approximately 1000 to 5000 doses shipments that are packed in dry ice. This specific requirement of storage and packaging likely means that Pfizer’s vaccine usage will be restricted to big urban areas that can be reached swiftly and have sufficient population to justify the container’s batch size.
Another challenge associated with this ultra-cold chain vaccine is electricity. Refrigerators and freezers require a lot of power. Besides that, there is a need for logistics coordination and to ensure that there is sufficient capacity to store the vaccine doses without taking away space for the vital vaccines that already exist in the cold chain.
The Existing Cold Chain
According to experts, approximately 12 billion to 15 billion COVID-19 vaccines would be required globally. By next year, experts predict that companies will be producing around 9 billion COVID-19 vaccines compared to 6.4 billion flu vaccines produced now per year. The cold chain must prepare itself to handle this surge in production.
There are three main infrastructure requirements- cold storage warehouses, trucks, and planes. How the infrastructure is utilized and connected depends upon the points in demand and the vaccine production location.
Solutions And Preparations
The staff throughout the cold chain would need specialized training on how to handle the vaccine. Another thing that needs to be considered is how frequently deliveries will be made to points of care. This will also depend upon the refrigeration capacity of the health care organizations, staffing resources, the locations the vaccines will be administered, and various other factors.
Many major logistics companies are already investing in new storage facilities for the cold chain management. However, installing freezers capable of extremely low temperatures as required by Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine may not be possible in many places. There is a need to put processes in place to ensure a steady supply of vaccines to such areas.
Besides that, the logistics companies and airlines are presently evaluating whether they can meet this requirement. A drug shippers group and an air cargo association conducted a survey that revealed that only 15 percent of industry participants are ready to transport vaccines near the -70 degree Celsius as required by the Pfizer vaccine. At the same time, 60% could meet a less stringent temperature requirement of around -20 degrees Celsius.
Fortifying and preparing the cold chain for COVID-19 vaccine distribution will ensure that doses are not wasted, and it will help the world to get over with pandemic faster.
There will be a need for an unprecedented level of collaboration. The carriers, cold boxes, and freezers are material components of the cold chain. However, the cold chain is also a connected chain of people that depend upon each other. In addition to the technical challenges such as the storage specifications, the supply chain stakeholders will have to work together like never before.