The coronavirus vaccine race and its awaiting supply chain challenges
Eight months into COVID-19 being officially declared as a pandemic, the coronavirus vaccine race continues. The world now sits in anxiety, waiting for the moment one will be approved and ready, but what everyone must realise is that the challenge of containing this pandemic doesn’t end with the creation of a coronavirus vaccine. There’s still the very big matter of dealing with its supply chain challenges.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are six general stages to develop a vaccine from the lab to the public: the exploratory stage, pre-clinical stage, clinical development, regulatory review and approval, manufacturing and quality control.
Challenge in mass distribution
A Forbes article stated there are currently more than 50 coronavirus vaccines entering clinical trials on humans and more than 85 clinical trials on animals. With so much going on, mass distribution of the vaccine will be a likely hurdle, so logistics companies need to prepare.
The article also noted a possibility of shortage in glass vials which could negatively impact the development and distribution of a vaccine. This scenario is likely, since the race towards a cure also brought in the rush to secure supplies. It also does not help that the market of the glass supply chain is fixed and without much growth, with only a few manufacturers, therefore likely to have shortages.
Global distribution will also require the appropriate infrastructure, specifically in temperature control since it is crucial that coronavirus vaccines be kept in under –94 Fahrenheit to remain their potency.
According to the article, UPS and FedEx have since established their own freezer farm infrastructure and are ready for global distribution once a vaccine becomes available. UPS currently has 2 freezer farms located in the U.S. and the Netherlands that can house 57 million doses of the vaccine. FedEx on the other hand began preparing since the H1N1 outbreak and currently has 90 cold-chain storage facilities worldwide.
Back in October, COVAXX and Maersk announced their global logistics partnership to ship the New York-based company’s vaccine around the world, where Maersk will be overseeing all logistics activities. The partnership aims to distribute up to a billion doses of the COVAXX synthetic vaccine worldwide by 2021.
As of present, the Australian federal government has entered five separate vaccine agreements with the University of Oxford, the University of Queensland/CSL, Novavax Inc., Pfizer/BioNTech, including joining a COVAX facility, totaling an order of 135 million doses and investing nearly $3.3 billion in the process.
Challenge in manufacturing
The Forbes article also pointed out several issues within manufacturing. Pharmaceutical companies will need to abide by Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) regulations—practices that ensure products are consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards.
Another issue for pharma manufacturers: labeling documentation. This is a problem for new drugs since packaging and inserts must be approved by each nation, meaning that separate stock keeping units are also needed per country as opposed to a single global SKU.
With this unique challenge in SKUs, the documentation might delay launches of the drug in a country. To remedy this, the article said some pharma companies enlisted the help of a specialised packing partner to ship the finished products to the global marketplace. .
Ripple effect in other supply chains
Developing and distributing a coronavirus vaccine will certainly be a feat that will impact other supply chains, such as general air cargo. The Forbes article said to expect shipping delays likely due to cargo carriers opting to prioritise distributing a coronavirus vaccine instead of other shipments. However, delays in consumer goods might be justified in this case.