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Covid-19 Vaccines:
The Exceptional Logistics Challenge

By The Editor - 27 november 2020

Humanity is faced with an unprecedented vaccination effort in order to achieve collective immunity close to 70%, or 5.5 billion people worldwide! Over 10 billion doses will need to be produced over time! Either by optimizing at best, in sterile vials of 10 doses, this represents a billion vials to be filled, packaged, stored, and sent to the places where the vaccine doses are distributed.

The scale of the logistical challenge is considerable. During the transport of vaccines, deterioration due to a break in the cold chain or transport at an inadequate temperature cannot be tolerated. It is not possible to accept a rate of deterioration as observed, usually, in this type of transport of the order of 5 to 15%, i.e. the equivalent, in the case of the Covid 19 vaccine, of more than 500 million from doses to 1 billion 500 doses!

The vaccine candidates developed by Johnson & Johnson in the United States, Astra Zeneca in partnership with the University of Oxford, Sanofi in France and the British drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, will be stored and transported at temperatures common to the vaccine forms.

But it is not the same for the two most advanced Leaders, Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna for vaccines must be delivered at temperatures of -70 degrees and -20 degrees respectively.

The distribution of vaccines will be limited initially. Pfizer plans to produce 30 million to 50 million doses in 2020, which is only enough for 15 to 25 million people. The vaccine will not be massively available until 2021.

Pfizer has designed a special box to manage the temperature when transporting the vaccine. These temperature-controlled boxes use dry ice to maintain a storage temperature of less than 70 degrees Celsius (plus or minus 10 degrees Celsius) for a period of 10 days.

The boxes are fitted with a GPS tracker that allows Pfizer to track shipments from a monitoring center from the monitoring station, ensuring that shipments do not experience temperature diversions. The boxes can then be filled with dry ice at the storage location to keep the vaccine at an adequate temperature. Each reusable box can hold between 1,000 and 5,000 doses at ultra-cold temperatures for up to 10 days according to Pfizer.

Two large facilities the size of a football field equipped with hundreds of large freezers in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Puurs, Belgium have been implemented by Pfizer. Other freezer farms in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, and Karlsruhe, Germany, are waiting to provide additional storage capacity. These facilities will be at the center of a colossal management system to ensure logistics with a network of subcontractors and the delivery of vaccines to the various countries of the planet. This portends serious cold chain challenges for African countries where many rural villages do not even have a vaccine refrigerator.

Vaccines will go more directly to dispensing centers, which means faster delivery. A shorter supply chain also means less transfers between logistics service providers and less deterioration due to a break in the cold chain.

Logistics companies UPS, FedEx and DHL are also preparing to handle the vaccines used in a cold room. UPS has built two freezer farms, one in the Netherlands and one in the United States, to accommodate a total of 600 freezers that can each hold 48,000 vials of vaccine at temperatures as low as -80 ° C. DHL also opened a new refrigeration facility in Indianapolis, and FedEx added freezers and refrigerated trucks. However, these capacities remain very modest compared to the hundreds of millions of bottles to be transported.

We are entering the era of biologics. These will soon account for nearly half of all global pharmaceutical sales. And just like vaccines, biological products sensitive to temperature and time will require storage and shipping conditions that meet very precise criteria and in particular low temperatures

PHARMAnetwork has gathered in issue 47 of the magazine the main agreements concluded with CDMOs

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