SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Though creating a COVID-19 vaccine in record time was a breakthrough, the next step, distribution, will place extraordinary demand on key raw materials – specifically dry ice – and distribution channels. "There are always shortages. You always over-forecast, under-forecast, under-procure, over-procure. This is the nature of supply chains,” Maryland Smith supply chain expert and research professor Sandor Boyson says in a recent Washington Post video story, “The Coronavirus Vaccine Is Here. Now the Race Is on for More Glass and Ice.”
The vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE must stay extremely cold. between -112° and -76°F. Its shipping and storage require a supply chain, as the video narration describes “like a vaccine conveyor belt stretching from plants to planes to the place of injection for nearly 300 million Americans… Any kinks in this chain could slow down everything.”
The concept of getting vaccines to clinics is nothing new, but volume and urgency make the COVID vaccine supply chain an extraordinary challenge, says Boyson, who has written “Vaccine Supply Chain: Federal Government Must Pivot from Venture Capital Seeder to Overseer” at The Hill. “Everbody’s trying to ramp up, scale up, and pivot. And it’s going to take time. And it’s going to be very sloppy. And it’s not going to be precise.”
Recent national media headlines have reflected Boyson’s point:
“As Ultra-Cold Pfizer Vaccines Ship Out, Dry Ice Supplies Tighten in Northeast” – Marketplace Radio
While the Pfizer vaccine requires special, ultracold freezers, the subsequent COVID vaccine produced by Moderna requires shipping and storage at -4°F making it storable in conventional refrigerator-freezers at clinics and pharmacies. “But a limited supply of both vaccines in the initial rollout means that the vaccine available is the one that distribution centers will get,” Boyson says.
Boyson, who more broadly assessed the national vaccine supply chain last month via Smith Brain Trust, says in the Washington Post video: “I’m still not sure… In my gut, I’m not sure we have that command and control, that intelligence in the network to be able to effectively allocate and distribute to all the parts of the country that we really need it to go to right now.”
December 23, 2020
Cold Chain: The Coronavirus Vaccine Is Here, Now the Race Is on for More Glass and Ice
Did You Know
UMD's Neutral Buoyancy Research Facility, which simulates weightlessness, is one of only two such facilities in the U.S.