Covid-19 vaccine rollout holds lessons for pharma supply chains, says Pfizer executive

The concentrated effort to develop, manufacture and distribute vaccines as the Covid-19 pandemic began to rage across the world highlighted the importance of the supply chain and helped establish a model for the how lifesaving drugs will be deployed in the future, Pfizer said. Inc.

the executive said.

“The supply chain has probably done as much, if not more” than the innovative science that Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies have used to produce the new vaccines that have been distributed around the world, Jim Cafone, senior vice president of the Pfizer’s global supply chain, at a supply chain industry conference this week.

Mr Cafone said the rapid development and deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine, which took less than a year from when the coronavirus was recognized in Wuhan, China, in January 2020 to the start of the shipment of doses from factories in December 2020, showed how drugs with critical healing properties will be distributed in compressed timeframes in the future.

Companies “will have to really rethink how you set up your supply chain,” he said at the annual meeting of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals in Nashville, Tennessee. Mr Cafone said the demands will require mapping all levels of the supply chain in advance, “how you plan it, how you source it, how you manufacture, and then the whole logistics side.”

New York-based Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech SE were among the first companies to develop a vaccine for Covid-19 in 2020, alongside Moderna, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Inc.

and in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Johnson & Johnson.

As the coronavirus spread rapidly across the United States in early 2020, Pfizer and Moderna each invested enormous resources in the effort to perfect vaccines using new technology that delivers mRNA, a type of material genetic.

Bulk manufacturing of the vaccine’s main ingredient, known as the drug substance, required a unique process that led Pfizer to design new machinery and modify its factories to accommodate the equipment. With the vaccine still under development, the company began designing its supply chain to quickly ramp up production and begin distribution of millions of doses once regulators approved the vaccine.

Trucks carrying Pfizer’s first shipment of Covid-19 vaccine in December 2020.


jeff kowalsky/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Once manufactured, vaccines had to be kept at ultra-cold temperatures well beyond the range of conventional refrigeration and transported with those stable sub-freezing levels.

Pfizer created a suitcase-sized shipping container containing vaccine vials and dry ice to keep doses effective for up to 10 days. This allowed the company to avoid reliance on the larger, temperature-controlled containers typically used in transportation and to ship vaccines more quickly because planes and trucks didn’t have to wait for refrigerated metal boxes.

Jeff Tucker, managing director of Tucker Company Worldwide Inc., a cargo broker based in Haddonfield, New Jersey, said the vaccine distribution push shows pharmaceutical companies how a well-designed logistics strategy can benefit their operations beyond beyond the pandemic.

“The importance of a clearly articulated transportation and distribution system is, I think, much more visible to everyone, not just the pharmaceutical industry, but everyone involved,” Tucker said.

New Covid variants that have proliferated and receded over the past year and a half have driven manufacturing changes at Pfizer, Cafone said, including boosting production capacity to adjust the vaccine formula and distribute quickly. the new version.

The pharmaceutical company and others that accelerated the release of Covid vaccines to the public will need to remain nimble, he said, while maintaining the supply chain discipline they employed at the start of the pandemic.

“No one is building a network for a pandemic,” Mr. Cafone said, “and how then do you start weaning yourself off that and start building your network for an endemic world but with the ability to ramp up or de-escalate quickly?”

Write to Liz Young at

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