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Article: The Logistics of COVID-19 Vaccine Trials

By AmerisourceBergen

It’s Not Just the Science We Have to Get Right

The race for a COVID-19 vaccine is one of the most significant pharmaceutical endeavors in a generation. Extraordinary investment and collaboration combined with new technologies and methods could produce at least one successful vaccine within expedited timescales, with the requirement for more than seven billion doses worldwide.

Vaccine development and manufacture is the first challenge; it’s a long process involving large-scale trials with the recruitment of healthy people. Ensuring it reaches the people who need it, with product integrity maintained, is the second challenge. Distribution of the approved vaccine will extend across the entire globe.

Based on World Courier’s experience of maintaining supply channels during times of public health crises and transport disruption, we’ve outlined key logistics considerations that apply to COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution – albeit on an unprecedented scale.

Adjuvant Drug Sourcing

Adjuvants are commonly used in vaccines to amplify their effect. They can reduce the time to a robust immune response, and the number of doses needed to achieve it. As such, there is a strong case that adjuvants will be essential in vaccinating the world’s population at speed.

It is therefore vital that any vaccine trial – and later, distribution network – has a cast-iron supply plan in place for sourcing adjuvants. Maintaining the shortest possible supply chain – ideally procuring directly from the adjuvant drug originator  – leaves less room for complications, and guarantees provenance.

The Correct Packaging

Vaccines are commonly transported cooled (2-8°C), frozen (-20°C) or deep frozen (-70°C). If the vaccine is to be effective once it reaches the recipient, there must be no temperature deviations. Transit times from manufacturing facility to final destination for administration could be extended due to the global nature of distribution required.

Only specialist packaging can keep the dose within range for extended periods of time, especially for low-volume shipments. For cases like these, passive containers combining materials like expanded polystyrene (EPS) and coolants such as dry ice or phase change materials offer the greatest consistency over the longest time – and the ability to replenish coolants if required.

End-to-End Cold Chain Maintenance

Packaging is an important part of preventing temperature excursions, especially if there are unexpected and out of control delays. But each stage of the journey must be properly equipped for refrigerated storage and coolant replenishment as applicable – often maintaining differing temperatures between individual consignments.

That requires planning a route that may not be logical on the map, but follows the logic of what facilities are available; both in terms of physical capabilities at airports and storage depots, and having staff with the right training to handle the shipment. Monitoring temperature in real-time is essential for enabling immediate action should an excursion occur.

A man pushes a box on a cart down a wide aisle of storage lockers in a pharmaceutical storage depot. 

Established Chain of Custody

Supply chains are only as strong as their weakest link. An auditable chain of custody is the only way to ensure confidence that the shipment hasn’t been tampered with, switched with counterfeit goods, or experienced an excursion at any point.

An established chain of custody is also a vital component of ensuring everybody handling the shipment works to the same regulatory and good practice standards, following the same SOPs. World Courier is the first logistics company to have obtained global GDP certification against three major GDP standards – and we ensure all our associates uphold these regulations.

Local Knowledge

At a time when unexpected disruptions have become a feature of global supply chains, local knowledge has become a prerequisite. It is vital to have people who know which airports and depots have the necessary storage facilities if a shipment is held up or must re-route. People who can negotiate changing customs requirements in the local language. When time is a factor, nothing beats the combination of local knowledge and international experience for implementing contingency plans.

Constant Communication

When everything runs smoothly, you need never talk. But when it doesn’t, constant communication is essential. The consignee should confirm time of arrival, shipment volume, and temperature at delivery – so if anything unexpected happens, it can be addressed immediately. The courier should also confirm the consignee knows how to handle the shipment to maintain its integrity once it’s left the logistics provider’s network.

Contingency Planning

When border restrictions can be implemented with little warning, it is vital to have contingency plans in place if delivery timescales are to be maintained. Alternative flights, routing and entry points should be planned for every lane. Switching between modes of transport – from a commercial to charter flight, for example – should be planned for where necessary. Local contacts become invaluable in ensuring all paperwork is taken care of, and that GDP standards and temperature specs are upheld despite the alterations.

Logistics Planning Has Never Been More Important

Speed is essential, but will be for nothing if it comes at the cost of shipment integrity for a vaccine that is addressing a global health crisis. At the same time, the pandemic has made international transport arguably more complex than at any time in the modern era.

World Courier has established an international network, with local experts across the globe that can shepherd your consignments wherever they need to be, pivoting when necessary. We have a robust record of reliably transporting pharmaceuticals to difficult-to-reach places, keeping within strict temperature ranges. 99.9% of our consignments are delivered without incident.

For more information on maintaining the biopharma supply chain in the COVID-19 pandemic, visit our resource center. Or to find out how we can ensure your vaccine trial goes according to plan, get in touch with our experts today.

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The Impact of COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution on Your Supply Chain