COVID-19 vaccine doses began rolling out in the United States on December 13. With more than 300 million Americans to potentially vaccinate, and locations from medical centers to nursing homes to pharmacies expected to receive deliveries from UPS and FedEx in the coming months, distribution of the vaccine doses presents an unprecedented logistical challenge.
To get some insight on this issue, we turned to an HMH client with plenty of relevant expertise – Aaron Brott, Senior Director of Key Client & Trade Development at North Carolina Ports. Thanks to two-plus decades of supply chain and logistics experience, Brott has better understanding than most of the details involved.
“The sheer volume of the effort to inoculate everyone is huge,” said Brott. “Remember that the supply chain doesn’t just involve the delivery and integrity of the vaccines. It also includes raw materials to manufacture and package the vaccines. Let’s not forget to account for the human supply chain. With two doses, recording people after initial doses are administered is a big undertaking.”
Such an effort would be a challenge in normal times. But COVID – as with everything else it affects – has disrupted distribution systems in many ways.
“COVID has wreaked havoc on supply chains,” said Brott. “When it first appeared, cargo wasn’t moving. That resulted in reduced capacity and limited space. Even as the economy has started to open back up, the capacity strain still exists.”
The Pfizer vaccine – first out of the gate in the U.S. – is packed in dry ice to keep its temperature stable at minus-70 degrees Celsius. That presents another unique obstacle: The necessity for quick vaccinations upon receipt of this important cargo.
“I don’t know of many brick and mortar locations able to reach that temperature,” Brott said.
Brott also noted that since dry ice is actually frozen carbon dioxide (CO2), its gaseous form can be hazardous on planes, which are being used for a vast number of vaccine shipments.
“Dry ice is limited on cargo aircraft,” Brott said. “Cargo handlers need to be careful around it especially since they are typically working in tighter spaces.”
The extreme temperature required for shipment of the Pfizer vaccine is a subject familiar to NC Ports, as its cold storage capability has undergone a recent expansion.
“This highlights the importance of cold storage infrastructure,” said Bethany Welch, NC Ports Senior Manager of Communications and Business Outreach. “In North Carolina and around the country, there’s a need to have capacity for large quantities of pharmaceuticals and many other goods related to life sciences.”
While Brott recognizes the immense challenges involved in COVID vaccine distribution, when asked about concerns he sounded a hopeful note on the months ahead.
“UPS and FedEx are well-versed in life sciences,” Brott noted about the two main vaccine delivery firms. “As distribution continues, the models will get tighter, and best practices will continue to develop.”
For more information about COVID-19 vaccination, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.