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In the News: COVID-19 Vaccine Logistics

Temperature-controlled shipping remains in the mainstream media spotlight.

General Gus Perna, who leads Operation Warp Speed, speaking to 60 Minutes.
General Gus Perna, who leads Operation Warp Speed, speaking to 60 Minutes.
CBS News/60 Minutes

In the healthcare packaging community, we know that development of a drug or vaccine is only one piece of the puzzle (albeit a critical one) in public health.

Packaging and logistics must deliver products safely to some 300 million patients spread far and wide. While COVID-19 continues to dominate headlines, and we continue our ongoing coverage, news of Pfizer’s 90% vaccine trial efficacy rate brings logistics to the forefront in the mainstream media. In case you missed it:

60 Minutes’A Shot in the Arm” reports on Operation Warp Speed (OWS), the military efforts underway to inoculate 300 million Americans with an anticipated COVID-19 vaccine. The segment talks about temperature controlled storage and distribution (including lack thereof in places like the U.S. Virgin Islands), particularly for vaccines that must be stored at -80 C.

As Marion Whicker, executive director at the U.S. Army, says, “The Virgin Islands has already reported in that they don't have ultra-cold freezers. That's okay. And that they don't have an ability to dry ice. But what we do know is that we can very quickly move dry ice from Puerto Rico." 

The report noted that OWS is stockpiling kits of the needles, syringes and alcohol swabs, and distributor McKesson has produced enough kits for 88 million shots.

Interestingly, when the interviewer asked General Gus Perna, in charge of OWS, about his nightmare scenario, Perna’s concern was more on the consumer side: “We get vaccines to the American people and they don't take them. Shame on us. ‘Hey, I was already sick, I don't need it.’ Shame on us. ‘Hey, I don't believe in vaccines.’ Shame on us… Just shame on us and it does keep me up at night.” 

The Wall Street Journal’s article this week, The Next Big Challenge After a Covid Vaccine Is Giving It to Enough People, highlights vaccination hurdles ahead in both producing and distributing a vaccine. The U.S. government continues to work on its multi-pronged approach to deliver future vaccines (except for Pfizer, which is handling its own distribution).

The authors note, “In Kalamazoo, Mich., Pfizer has turned a stretch of land the size of a football field into a staging ground outfitted with 350 large freezers, ready to take delivery of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccine before they can be shipped around the world. From that site, and another in Puurs, Belgium, the pharmaceutical giant said it wants to deliver up to 100 million doses this year and another 1.3 billion in 2021.”

Lonza Group AG expects that Moderna’s bulk vaccine will need to be stored at -70 C until it reaches the packaging facility where vial filling takes place. “From there, the vaccine will hopefully be able to survive for at least a year at minus-20 degrees, which most Western hospitals have equipment to handle. But the company is still fine-tuning the production process to make sure it can manufacture enormous quantities of the vaccine without the vaccine losing its quality.”

Astra Zeneca is not packaging vaccines yet as it does not have stability data yet.

Reuters reported on Nov. 11 in Cold storage challenges could hamper distribution of Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines - Fauci that Dr. Anothony Fauci shares these concerns.

According to Dr. Fauci, “It does have cold-chain challenges as it were. In a country like the UK and the United States we can address them and it still would be challenging. But, probably much more challenging in countries in the developing world.” 

Despite these challenges, he says that diversity in products will play a role: “That’s the reason why when we put together our plan ... we want to have a diversity of what we call vaccine platforms. It is not just mRNA ... there are three separate platforms that are being looked at in the United States.” 

[Editor's note: Of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list of coverage, as everyone from the local news to the Daily Show's Trevor Noah continues to report on temperature control and logistics. It's an opportunity for the healthcare packaging and supply chain community to be thrust into the spotlight for the work that's been done for public health for decades.]

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