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Health & Medicine

SU Supply Chain Expert: Direct Shipments of Vaccine Ensure Product Integrity

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SUNY Upstate
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via facebook @upstatemedicaluniversity

The arrival of an initial shipment of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine here in Central New York has been met with much celebration and relief. But many might not realize the logistics behind producing the vaccine and getting it to its destinations.  WAER News caught up with a Syracuse University Professor of Supply Chain Management Burak Kazaz at the Whitman School.

He says Pfizer/BioNtech is using a tighter, streamlined supply chain between its manufacturing facilities in Michigan and Belgium, and a distribution center in Wisconsin.

"In this particular situation, especially early on, beacuse the supply is very limited, they will probably make direct shipments to the point of destination.  From the distribution center or factory, they're going to do the smallest number of trips and smaller number of hand-offs between different parties."

He says this quickly moves the precious cargo to hospitals and senior care facilities where the vaccine will be administered.  We’ve all heard that this vaccine needs to be kept at nearly 100 degrees below zero in special shipping containers equipped with sensors.  Kazaz says while these conditions seem like a challenge, they’re actually not that uncommon. 

"We have frozen seafood sent in the same type of cargo containers, so we don't really need to worry because we have the technology and capability to accomplish that.   In fact, the vaccines that are used for livestock, they typically require temperatures of minus 200 Fahrenheit.  If you think about it, this is less challenging than that."

He adds that the Moderna vaccine will be easier to distribute because it can be kept at more typical temperatures of just below zero.  But inoculating tens of millions of people also requires plenty of other supplies like syringes, masks, gloves, and other PPE.  Professor Kazaz says a supply chain has already been in place.

"Obviously with the demand associated with the vaccine, there's a higher demand for these kinds of supplies as well, which is pretty normal.   However, we knew it up front.  I am pretty sure these facilities are well-positioned to prepare for the significant increase in demand."

He warns, however, that as inoculations continue at a rapid pace, supplies could eventually become strained.  Meanwhile, Kazaz says it’s critical that vaccine be distributed to all corners of the world equitably, including those living in rural areas and challenging terrain.  He says fighting COVID 19 has truly a global effort….a Chinese scholar published the genetic code of the virus back in January, and the Turkish-born CEO of German firm BioNtech helped create the vaccine that’s now being distributed around the world.