49ºF

Breaking down massive distribution challenges facing eventual COVID-19 vaccine

Finding vaccine isn’t only hurdle to ending pandemic

Researchers around the globe are working to create a safe and effective coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, but once that’s been accomplished, distributing that vaccine to the world’s population is going to be a massive challenge.

In fact, preparations for vaccine distribution are already underway.

Millions of doses of the top vaccine candidates are already being produced. If the vaccines don’t work, they’ll be thrown out. But if they do, those doses will be the first ones shipped around the world.

“We have to go from there to actually having billions of doses of vaccine that can be delivered to people around the world,” Pfizer Vice President Pamela Siwik said.

Governments have committed billions of dollars to vaccine makers. The United States alone has ordered 900 million doses.

Pfizer, in partnership with BioNTech, plans to make 100 million doses of its vaccine by the end of the year.

“Well, it is absolutely not normal,” Siwik said. “It’s unprecedented.”

To try to meet that demand, Pfizer has set up separate manufacturing in the U.S. and Europe.

“The competition is not each other,” Siwik said. “It really is working against the virus.”

Meanwhile, companies such as UPS are preparing to pick up, store and deliver the vaccine.

“We don’t know who’s going to be first,” said Wes Wheeler, of UPS. “We know that Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca with Oxford University, Cansino in China is doing well. We know that Novavax is moving fast.”

Different types of vaccines need different transportation and storage conditions. One of the biggest challenges is temperature.

“A few months ago we started to get good information about what temperatures would be required for these vaccines,” Wheeler said. “We made an investment in freezer farm technology. So we have invested in both the U.S. and Roermond, in the Netherlands. It’s one of our hubs near our Cologne air hub in Germany.”

UPS has also put freezers in several of its depots around the world.

Security is critical. UPS plans to have 24/7 tracking for every single vial.

“We are taking very seriously the fact that our clients are counting on us to move every single vial and not lose a single one,” Wheeler said.

In 2009, during the H1N1 outbreak, health departments held mass vaccination events where people waited in line for hours to get vaccines. That’s not something people should be doing with COVID-19, so how to physically vaccine people will be another challenge after distribution.


About the Authors: