How Covid-19 Vaccines Get Millions of Americans from the Factory Coronavirus


What are the main challenges in marketing newly developed Covid-19 vaccines?

The two largest U.S. developers of early Covid-19 vaccines are Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna. They both developed an mRNA vaccine, a relatively new type of vaccine. One of the main problems in the supply chain is the temperature requirement of these vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine should be stored between minus 112F (minus 80C) and minus 94F (minus 70C), and the Moderna vaccine requires temperatures around minus 4F (minus 20C), which is close to the temperature of commercial grade freezers. A third vaccine development company, AstraZeneca, says regular cooling temperatures of 36F to 46F, or 2-8 C, are required.

Vaccination of Moderna can stay at minus 4F for up to six months and then in the refrigerator for a month, the company says. According to Pfizer, its vaccine has a shorter shelf life of five days after being transferred from ultra-cold containers to the refrigerator, leaving vaccines to be administered for a short time.

How are these vaccines transported and stored?

Moderna plans to take a similar approach to previous epidemics, such as the H1N1 swine flu epidemic in 2009. In this case, the vaccines will be shipped from its manufacturing facility in the Northeast and Europe in the U.S. to a distribution center in Irving, Texas, which will be equipped with freezers to store the vaccine for extended periods of time. From here, they are distributed to hospitals, pharmacies and other vaccination sites.

Pfizer’s vaccines are manufactured in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It handles delivery to administrative locations in collaboration with logistics partners. Because ultra-cold storage is only available in large facilities and hospitals, they are stored there for a short time before being transferred to administrative sites.

Some states, such as New York, are considering setting up their own distribution centers.

How are the required temperatures maintained?

Pharmacies and hospitals are trying to develop or procure ultralow low temperature freezers, but this is a huge cost to them. Demand for freezers and dry ice is now extremely high and there is a risk of shortages. Thus, vaccines need to be delivered and administered efficiently to ensure that they reach the public without any waste or bottlenecks in the supply chain. In 2019 alone, about $ 34 billion worth of vaccinations were wasted due to temperature fluctuations during transportation.

Dry ice is a cheap way to keep temperatures low. “Heat carriers” like a Pfizer suitcase need about 50 pounds of dry ice to keep them at a temperature for a few days. It is considered a hazardous substance in aircraft, but the Federal Aviation Administration has granted permission to use up to five times the normal amount to be carried with vaccines.

Administration site personnel should be trained to control the temperature and to open the Pfizer thermal can only a few times a day for up to a few minutes at a time and to refill it with new dry ice at appropriate times. Part of the training is already underway.

What can be done about traceability and traceability?

Monitoring and tracing the entire process ensures that vaccines are stable and not manipulated. Making this data available to governments and the public can increase confidence in vaccines. This is especially important because these vaccines need two doses to work, and we need people to go back to the second and follow their feedback on possible side effects.

My team and I are working to develop technologies that improve the tracking and tracing of smart packaging using sensors and other communication technologies.

Monitoring and follow-up also involves the development of databases that integrate data in an end-to-end supply chain, from vendors to administrative sites. Currently, Pfizer and Moderna will have the information until it reaches the injection site, and hospitals and pharmacies will receive the data through electronic health records (EHR). So there are challenges we are still trying to overcome for the nationwide development and use of an integrated and interoperable system with enhanced capabilities.

Insurance companies and the government are thinking about how to ensure coverage for vaccinations, while Centers for Disease Prevention and Control issue guidelines to ensure that the majority of the population receives the vaccine effectively.

  • Bahar Aliakbarian is an expert in pharmaceutical supply chain management and a professor at the Michigan State University School of Packaging

  • This article has been republished by The Conversation, a non-profit news organization dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts