The Vaccine Supply Chain

July 27, 2020
The Vaccine Supply Chain

Many people claim that for the world to return to normal, a successful vaccine must exist.  Tremendous resources are being applied to the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.  Some are even showing sign of success in early trials.

However, the development of the vaccine isn’t the only problem.  A supply chain to deliver the vaccine world-wide will be needed.  This might be more of a challenge than the development of the vaccine.

A vaccine supply chain faces many problems, some of which are unique from the supply chains of normal products.  Yet, finding solutions will be necessary for the world to return to normal.

Video Spotlight: COVID-19 Research and Analysis with Northeastern Experts || Vaccine Supply Chain (June 24, 2020, Northeastern)

This post is based on the European Pharmaceutical Review article, The Extra Mile: Preparing A Supply Chain for A COVID-19 Vaccine, by Madhav Durbha, June 29, 2020, and the YouTube video in the Spotlight. Image source: TRBfoto/Getty Images

Discussion Questions:

1.  What problems will the vaccine supply chain face?

Guidance: It is not just the vaccine that must be provided.  Vials to store the vaccine, and syringes to administer the vaccine are needed as well.  The ability to produce these items isn’t in doubt like the vaccine; but, they are vital to administer the vaccine.  A shortage of these items when the vaccine becomes available could cost lives.

Another issue is that vaccine must be stored in the correct temperature range (2-8 degrees Centigrade, or —36-46 degrees Fahrenheit).  If the vaccine is stored outside of this temperature range its effectiveness is reduced.  Even developed countries have difficulties with this requirement.  The problem is exacerbated in under-developed countries.  This requirement also increases the importance of getting the vaccine administered quickly.  Therefore, it is vital that the production and distribution are working together effectively to distribute the vaccine.

2. How should the vaccine be allocated initially?

Guidance: Initially, there will be more demand for the vaccine than supply.  Determining who will be part of the first group will be an important decision.

You can envision this process as a waiting line for the vaccine.  To begin with, the allocation may need to consider how much each country or region will receive initially.   Next, determine what category of individuals should receive the vaccine (for example, the most vulnerable?).  This could even go into two categories—those that are at most risk of death (older individuals), or those that face the most exposure (healthcare workers, first responders).

Another group for consideration are supply chain workers for essential products.  For example, meat processing workers have contracted the virus through their work at an alarming rate.  They are a vital part of our food supply chain.  Should they be given priority?  It could also become political, as people fight for their group to receive priority.

3. Should manufacturers produce the vaccine before it has completed its clinical trials?

Guidance: A typical approach with vaccines is to wait until the vaccine has completed its clinical trials before producing it.  This avoids any wasted production of vaccines that prove to be ineffective.  However, this delays production and distribution.  With the current Covid-19 crisis, time is critical.  Therefore, one stance is that manufacturers should begin production before approval to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible.

This does run the risk that the vaccine will be produced and never used if it fails to obtain approval.  An interesting decision will be when to start production of the vaccines.  For example, is a successful phase 1 trial enough to begin production?


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