Logistics of Distributing the Vaccine

In an event many logistics experts are referring to as one of the greatest logistics challenges in history, the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine has begun. As more people become vaccinated, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of the  pandemic. Now that two vaccines have been approved, the challenge of distribution has begun. Let’s take a look at how things have gone so far.  

Vaccine Article Graphic

Delivery Difficulties

When vaccine distribution began in mid-December, the Trump administration stated they had a goal to have 20 million people vaccinated before the end of the year. Unfortunately, as we entered into the new year only 5.46 million doses of the vaccine have been administered. Why are we so far behind? One critical issue is transporting vaccines in sub-arctic temperatures. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are shipped frozen and they must be stored in -70 degrees Celsius. To accomplish this, the vaccines are being shipped in special containers with dry ice.

When the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines stay frozen they have a shelf life of six months. However, once the vaccines are delivered keeping the vaccines at these cold temperatures remains difficult and shortens their shelf life. The Pfizer vaccine can last up to 30 days when stored in dry ice and replacing the dry ice every five days. Under normal refrigeration the vaccine expires after five days. This creates a narrow window to ship and administer the vaccine before it expires. Moderna says that their vaccine can last 6 months in normal freezer temperatures (-20 degrees Celsius) or 30 days in normal refrigeration temperatures (2 to 8 degrees Celsius). Once the vaccines are thawed, they cannot be refrozen so many health facilities are having difficulty preparing vaccines before they expire.

No Unified Strategy

Each state has created different rules for how they want to distribute and administer the vaccines making it a challenge to create a uniformed strategy in health systems. With many of the health facilities not requiring an appointment to get the vaccine, this leads to either the facilities thawing too many vaccines and risking them expiring or they don’t thaw enough which can cause delays in how many people can be administered the vaccine during a certain period. The lack of communication between states and various health facilities may cause delays in vaccine distribution.

Moving Forward

We have learned a lot in the first month of distributing and administering the vaccine. Communication proves to be the most valuable tool for determining how much of the vaccine health facilities need to have on hand. As we streamline the distribution around the country, we will advance to the next stage of administering the vaccine to individuals outside the health services.

In the week of January 11th, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that they will be opening up vaccine eligibility to all senior citizens 65 and older and young people with medical conditions that are high risk for COVID-19. With more vaccines being administered consistently, they believe it will be easier to plan distribution so health facilities can remain in supply and reduce the risk of having the vaccine expire.