As over 100 companies race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, once they complete development, the pressure moves to supply chains to get the vaccines to the medical community for distribution. Eyes will turn to the last mile, watching as drivers carry the precarious deliveries to their end point.
While the COVID vaccines are new and in high-demand, vaccines (and vaccine delivery) have been around for decades. Many medical deliveries are highly-sensitive, and require a specific workflow to ensure safe delivery of the goods. So, how does one deliver a vaccine?
Before the Last Mile
No matter which company gets to the finish line first, these vaccines will have thousands of miles to travel to reach those in need. Vaccines are sensitive. They must be highly protected during the entire transport process through temperature regulation and limited light exposure.
Referred to as the cold chain, the transportation of vaccines must be done at controlled cool temperature as to not inhibit the effectiveness of the vaccine. For most vaccines, these temperatures are between 36 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
In order to ensure this temperature consistency, vaccines should be shipped in a cooler with gel cold packs (not dry ice.) The package should also include a digital thermometer that allows the temperature to be recorded throughout transport. Here is a video from the Texas Health Department on packaging vaccines.
Packages that contain vaccines should be labeled as such, to let all who handle the package know of the requirements that come with the contents. The World Health Organization requires that recipients of the vaccines must be sent notice 7-days before delivery. They must also be told vital information about the contents of the delivery, including the type of vaccine, doses, value, and who to contact if the package does not arrive.
Equally as important as the vaccine supply chain, is the successful delivery of the fragile product. Making a vaccine delivery requires considerations to maintain its integrity.
Time: Time is of the essence when making a vaccine delivery. Ensuring an on-time delivery, allows the recipient to be ready to receive the product immediately. As stated above, WHO guidelines on vaccine delivery prescribe a 7-day notice of the expected delivery date to the recipient. This allows the consignee to be prepared to receive the vaccine, and also provides a deadline for the deliverer.
Exchange: Where the goods are delivered to is especially vital. Once at the location, the vaccines should be immediately placed in refrigeration to maintain the all-important temperature of the vaccine. Who is placing the vaccines in the refrigerator — the driver or a recipient — should be clarified before delivery. Vaccines should never be left at the threshold or outside of a location as it would increase the risk of varied temperatures.
Record-keeping: Keeping a record of the parcel’s journey to ensure proper compliance was kept along the way is vital for those on the receiving end of the vaccine. Important factors like the temperature of the vaccine at intervals along the journey, as well as whose hands the vaccine has gone through can be crucial to look back on later. Many state or local health organizations will provide any necessary forms and documentation..
Where the Final Mile Falls Short
The United States is extremely privileged to have access to vaccinations and provide this opportunity to our population. Given the amazing level of access that the U.S. has, and still battles with the ensuring safe transport and delivery of vaccinations, we feel it is important to point out that the battle to distribute vaccines in less wealthy countries is a struggle for millions.
Here are some ways the U.S. and other countries continue to struggle with vaccine delivery:
Lack of equipment
In order to get vaccines to the population as quickly as possible, there must be adequate equipment to distribute and deliver them. Because vaccines require cold chain equipment, the last mile delivery must be completed with vehicles that can help maintain a vaccine’s temperature.
Lack of training
As mentioned, many vaccines must be kept away from light and within a specific temperature range. There are also other regulations involving the transport of vaccines, like where to place it in your vehicle and when a vaccine can not cross state lines. This means that those handling the vaccine must have training and knowledge to do so properly. An innocent mistake can compromise the integrity of an entire delivery.
Lack of technology
The pandemic that catapulted paperless and contactless deliveries, will potentially be ended by a vaccine with a supply chain paper trail that puts some bureaucracies to shame — the irony is not lost here. The paper trail was well-intended — hoping to ensure a solid record of the vaccine’s history to provide confidence in its effectiveness upon delivery, but the complications that paper adds to a supply chain and especially during delivery is not small.
Involving paper limits visibility to the sending and compliance-enforcing bodies. It can be inaccurate and inefficient.
All of the data that the paper requires can be submitted electronically, making it quickly visible to all parties through the supply chain. Paired with data that can be automatically generated, like GPS coordinates and temperature checks of each package, it’s a much more effective and efficient way of collecting vaccine data.
Preparing the Final Mile
As we wait for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines to begin distribution and make its way to the masses, now is the time to address the potential shortcomings of the vaccine supply chain to ensure quick and effective delivery.
eTrac has the technology, experience, and proficiency in the last mile of medical and pharmaceuticals to help with any last mile need. With a single integration, shippers can access a comprehensive network of last mile carriers with the right equipment, experience in medical deliveries and the capacity required to ensure timely, quality deliveries.
Monitoring your last mile is simplified with real-time communication and alerts as well as reporting dashboards that allow you to view and respond to issues quickly.