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Covid19 vaccine distribution will be a logistical challenge for pharma logistics

Caught ice cold:


More than 160 million vaccine doses would be needed in Germany to immunize an entire nation against the Covid-19 virus. According to various media reports, Germany will start with three million vaccine doses by the end of January 2021, and the first vaccination centers are expected to start operating in the last days of the current year. Distribution and storage of the first available vaccine from Biontech & Pfizer at -70 degrees will be a logistical challenge for pharma logistics. An overview by Jörg Brinkmann, Managing Director of Hanse Service und Pharmalogisticpartner GmbH.


The logistics industry, and pharmaceutical logistics companies in particular, are facing major challenges. First countries, such as Great Britain, have already started to vaccinate their population with the new vaccine against the Corona virus from the Mainz-based pharmaceutical company Biontech and the US corporation Pfizer. A fast-track approval made this possible. In Europe, the regular approval procedure will probably be completed before Christmas, so that the vaccination centers in Germany will also be able to start work by the end of the year, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn. Other pharmaceutical manufacturers are also waiting in the wings with their vaccines. What they all have in common is that they have to be transported and stored refrigerated, with temperatures ranging from plus 4 to minus 70 degrees. In particular, the extremely low temperatures can only be achieved on trucks and in airplanes by means of thermoboxes and dry ice. These maintain the required temperatures for up to six days. These are extremely high demands on pharmaceutical logistics – not only in terms of time management with regard to delays, but also the demands on materials and employees are very high.


Nationwide vaccine distribution – balancing act between transport time and resources and vaccination frequency. Medium-sized logistics experts are also on hand to provide qualified solutions.

The biggest challenge for pharmaceutical logisticians will be the unconditional guarantee of the cold chain. Vaccine doses must be transported quickly from manufacturing sites in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere to destination countries for a rapid start to immunizing the world’s population. In Germany, distribution is then made to transshipment centers, warehouses, immunization centers and, later, hospitals and doctors‘ offices. This is also challenging because hospitals and doctors‘ offices generally have little storage capacity for these ultra-low temperatures and must be kept permanently fresh. Nationwide storage locations from which to distribute further afield are therefore needed. If the cold chain is interrupted by heat or delays in road traffic, there is a risk of loss of effect or even side effects, they say.

Currently, the major logistics companies with pharmaceutical business lines such as DHL, FedEx or Kühne + Nagel are under discussion for the logistics of the vaccine. They have great resources and special know-how. However, we assume that vaccine distribution will also become relevant for the medium-sized companies like Hanse Service, because the resources at the large companies are not infinitely scalable. This is where we, who have been active in pharmaceutical logistics with refrigerated transports and cold storage for decades, are in demand. As a pharmaceutical logistics partner with decades of experience in temperature-controlled pharmaceutical transports, we offer optimal solutions, taking into account high safety standards and monitoring. Our quality management is aligned with the AMG, AMWHV and GDP-Guideline, we have a wholesale authorization according to AMG 52a Abs.1, as well as a GDP certificate of the authority. For the implementation, we rely on the latest IT technology, barcode scanners, temperature storage, as well as our long-time, trained specialist staff. For many other transport companies this is new territory. They don’t like to handle dry ice, for example, because the personnel – trained and equipped with protective clothing – have to be very careful to avoid skin burns or frostbite.


Future challenges will be the acceptance and propensity to vaccinate among the population, and thus the complex organization of storage and logistics.

The development of the first vaccines and their specifics in terms of logistics have long been known. We would have liked to have seen the development of holistic logistics strategies as early as the summer months, which could have been applied now. So far, we have seen little of this in pharmaceutical logistics. Nevertheless, as specialists, we have already secured thermo boxes and cooling ice contingents so that we are prepared for rapid and flexible deployment. Because as a sales partner of Sonoco thermo packaging, which among other things is also suitable for dry ice systems between -20 and -78 degrees, we have quick access to thermo packaging and temperature monitoring tools, such as the Elpro data logger. Always under the premise of quality over quantity.

For Europe, we assume that distribution will be carried out by trucks. Internationally and on long-haul routes, aircraft will initially be the means of choice for distributing the vaccine doses quickly. Air freight hubs such as Fraport in Frankfurt and its capacities will play a major role in this. Both – trucks and cargo planes – will have to use dry ice for transport. Delays must be avoided at all costs, otherwise the vaccine could be damaged. Later, transport by ship with refrigerated containers is also a possibility. The so-called super freezers on board can ensure extremely low temperatures over a long period of time.


Today’s necessities may already be passe tomorrow

It also remains exciting how things will develop in the medium term. Pharmaceutical companies such as Curevac and Moderna are said to be working on vaccines that can be stored and transported at refrigerator temperatures. Such drug transports have been tried and tested for decades and can be carried out by pharmaceutical logistics companies without any problems. This means that ultra-low temperature freezers, such as those currently needed and purchased for Biontech & Pfizer’s vaccine in vaccination centers and by logistics companies, would soon be obsolete – at least on the current scale. It also remains to be seen how high the confidence in and acceptance of Covid 19 vaccinations are among the population and which contingents of vaccine doses actually have to be procured and kept available throughout Germany.