The logistics sector will be tested in 2021 on how well it can meet the challenges of COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Mass vaccine distribution has begun throughout the world, as businesses and schools particularly have an interest in ending shutdowns. Here's a look at how the vaccine rollout impacts logistics.
The Need for Cold Storage
One of the key metrics of COVID-19 vaccine logistics is temperature, as vaccines must remain cold during storage and throughout the shipping process. Once the FDA approved mass distribution of the vaccines in late 2020, supply chains were challenged to make last-mile adjustments. If not stored below -90 degrees Fahrenheit, the vaccines will become damaged and lose efficacy.
Cryogenic (deep freezing) storage conditions are required for the Pfizer vaccine, whereas the Moderna vaccine can be kept in a standard freezer for up to six months. The regular flu vaccine, by contrast, requires storage temperatures between 35- and 42-degrees Fahrenheit. The vaccines must be stored at the right temperatures during every stage of distribution. Once they are taken out of cryogenic storage, the vaccines must be used within five days.
Since cold storage or dry ice isn't widely available everywhere, Pfizer's strategy is to ship its vaccines directly to healthcare facilities, where they can be appropriately stored. Pfizer is also using special packaging that allows for storage up to 30 days if it's treated with dry ice every five days. Dry ice can be generated by freezing CO2 byproducts from fossil fuel production. Due to lower oil, gas, and ethanol production during the panic, the CO2 needed to produce dry ice has become less available.
Protective Equipment Distribution
Medical supply chains have suffered a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) since the pandemic struck. This supply scarcity has included masks, gloves, and gowns, which are critical for medical professionals. In addition to standard PPE shortages, medical facilities also need supplies such as wipes, needles, syringes, and bandages. It's unclear if they will have sufficient supplies over the next several months of vaccine distribution.
CDC Vaccine Tracking
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a Vaccine Tracking System (VTrckS) for ordering millions of vaccine doses each year. It uses the same management system for ordering all COVID-19 vaccines. The system is used by various government agencies and pharmacy chains to view vaccine allocations, vaccine order placement, and management and distribution reports that track all vaccine shipments.
This vaccine tracking system integrates with government and commercial partners to receive or exchange vaccine data throughout the CDC's IT infrastructure. The system tracks vaccine inventory as well as waste data and other information relevant to medical supply chains. The CDC's logistics contractor McKesson receives VTrckS orders then directs Pfizer, Moderna, and other vaccine makers to ship vaccines to suppliers.
Another way the CDC is helping suppliers with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is with its VaccineFinder on its website. This resource is designed to help healthcare providers enter vaccine distribution centers in a central database for real-time inventory monitoring. All COVID-19 vaccine providers are required to update their inventory on a daily basis in the VaccineFinder. Then when they've accumulated a sufficient supply of doses, they can make vaccine distribution locations visible on the platform for suppliers and the public.
Additionally, the CDC has developed two new cloud systems for reporting vaccine data. The Immunization Data Clearinghouse collects COVID-19 vaccination data, allowing healthcare providers to search for patients to identify the vaccine brand given and the number of doses they received. Meanwhile, the IZ Data Lake stores de-identified vaccine data that protects patient privacy.