With 2021 on the horizon, the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging full-force. Causing over 50 million cases and nearly 100,000 deaths*, the coronavirus has drastically altered the lives of millions. However, as we set our sights on the New Year, several COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in the process of being approved for distribution.
In order to successfully administer potential vaccines to mass amounts of people, an advanced pharmaceutical cold chain must be in place, able to store, fulfill, and distribute an unprecedented number of doses. Further, storing these vaccines under highly regulated temperature requirements is vital, along with careful product tracking from cold chain storage through distribution to patients.
Third party distribution teams and organizations will be paramount in efforts to store, fulfill, and distribute vaccines. As one of these organizations, SSI SCHAEFER has a successful history of working closely with pharmaceutical warehouses and distribution centers internationally. SSI SCHAEFER is an industry leader in creating and servicing cold chain equipment and tracking technologies, adequately preparing the company and its customers for the next step in the war against COVID-19.
According to The New York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker, there are over 63 vaccines in various stages of development, with 18 vaccines in Phase 3, 5 vaccines in limited use, and 2 fully approved vaccines. In order to receive U.S. Food and Drug (FDA) approval, an inoculation must be effective 50% of those vaccinated, at a minimum.
Once approved, a vaccine demands careful compliance with stringent government and pharmaceutical industry guidelines during the manufacturing, storage, and administration processes.
In the United States, the 2013 FDA Drug Supply Chain Security Act clarifies a set of strict rules for the pharmaceutical supply chain – rules that are effective through 2023. The DSCSA requires an electronic, connected system that follows and tracks vaccines during their journey to patients. These guidelines must be followed by manufacturers, repackagers, 3PLs, and wholesale distribution organizations.
In order to ensure effective distribution from pharma and cold chain storage providers, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit. The toolkit, in summary, lays out three essential pieces of an effective cold chain:
Qualified and prepared staff with a complete understanding of vaccine storage and handling best practices.
Dependable storage and temperature monitoring systems that keep vaccines safe during storage, ensuring temperature ranges between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius for refrigerators, and -50 to -15 degrees Celsius for freezers.
Consistent vaccine tracking. Careful ordering and stock records must be in place to manage inventory and accurately trace every single vial.
Each of these components is essential for successful COVID-19 vaccine distribution, as well as supply chain collaboration between organizations and teams.
In a recent interview with Medical Xpress, Julie Swann, department head and A. Doug Allison Distinguished Professor of the Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina State University, shared a useful metaphor for understanding vaccine distribution. The subject matter expert drew parallels between the vaccine cold chain and soda bottle distribution.
“The Coca-Cola Company (TCC) doesn't necessarily know how many bottles are sitting in a particular convenience store, or when a product is purchased by a consumer, or when a location is out of stock,” she says. “If the information system and collaborations have been put in place, then they know through data sharing. For example, Walmart or Publix may share information back with TCC, who can then use the information to make decisions on production, distribution, allocation, promotional campaigns, etc.
“…We cannot wait until vaccine is available to begin designing our systems for distributing the vaccine. We should plan for several different scenarios, including ones where vaccine is in short supply and ones where vaccine is readily available. We need to think about what these systems would look like if multiple doses are needed, and what investments we need to make in our information systems now.
“We can also build partnerships between public health and private industry, such as occurred with retail pharmacies. These partnerships could also help inform best practices on information in the vaccine system, just as we have for beverages or other products that we consume.”
SSI SCHAEFER has years of experience with cold chain collaboration, setting the industry standard for automation best practices and solutions. As an international company with over 70 locations spanning multiple continents, SSI SCHAEFER can assist biotechnology organizations in the storage, fulfillment, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to medical providers located around the globe.
Much like food and beverage companies that establish distribution channels easily accessible to the customer for optimal distribution, medical providers and organizations can use existing cold chain infrastructure to swiftly dispense vaccines – even COVID-19 vaccines with strict temperature requirements.
SSI SCHAEFER offers a variety of products and solutions that are up to the task. For example, WAMAS, the company’s leading warehouse management system (WMS), can act as a control center for cold chain logistics processes, offering scrutinous monitoring of storage facilities to ensure an appropriate temperature range for vaccines waiting to be shipped. WAMAS also offers a powerful network integration of enterprise resource planning systems essential for compliance with the DSCSA, allowing customers complete visibility of inventory in real-time.
A complete warehouse management suite like WAMAS is the ideal solution for material handling when accuracy matters most. Because vaccines with stringent storage requirements require careful, error-free handling, SSI SCHAEFER also offers industry leading automation equipment, including custom automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), conveyors, and order verifiers. This technology can easily be integrated with existing warehouse systems and greatly assist in cold chain pharma fulfillment and distribution.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems offer 100% automation, resulting in lower energy consumption, greater picking accuracy and speed, and material handling that is fully compliant with pharmaceutical guidelines.
“Utilizing automation to distribute the vaccine will increase the distribution efficiency in a safe manner today while still meeting regulatory demands in the pharma and biotech industries in the future,” states Matt Rivenbark, an automation expert from SSI SCHAEFER.
SSI SCHAEFER stands ready to provide expertise on cold chain vaccine storage and distribution, offering the most advanced solutions in automatic order checking, inventory management and tracking, and fully automated storage systems. With a history of industry leading automation innovation, SSI SCHAEFER can use its global presence to help defeat the Coronavirus pandemic in 2021.
*Accurate at time of publication