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Jason Burns, director of corporate development with Dropoff and first vice president of the Customized Logistics & Delivery Association, outlines the challenges that pharmaceutical manufacturers face in maintaining strict temperature controls for delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Hundreds of millions of Americans will be receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in months to come, but to ensure that the drug reaches them safely and effectively, the drug must be kept extremely cold for its entire journey to the patient. Pfizer’s version of the vaccine requires a constant temperature of around minus 94 degrees F, while those produced by AstraZeneca and others merely need constant refrigeration. Either way calls for an immense and coordinated infrastructure to distribute the vaccines at scale.
For shipment, the vaccine will be sealed in kits that keep them frozen or cold, eliminating the need for trucks and warehouses with their own internal temperature controls. But great care must be taken in handling the drugs; some cases can only be opened a couple of times a day, for a few minutes each time, Burns says. Some larger hospitals are equipped with freezers that can maintain the coldest temperatures required for the most sensitive vaccines, he notes.
UPS and FedEx appear to be the primary designated carriers of the Pfizer vaccine. But questions remain about whether they’ll have to turn away substantial volumes of regular products and packages in order to reserve space and trucks for the vaccine distribution. Burns says the problem was already evident during the latest peak holiday shipping season, when the two big parcel carriers had to limit quantities from certain big shippers. Burns expects that crunch to lessen somewhat when the peak passes, but says logistical challenges are likely to persist throughout the coming year, as vaccine distribution ramps up.
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