COVID-19 Vaccine Packaging and Distribution

The CDC will use their centralized distribution contract to carry out orders for COVID-19 vaccines and supporting supplies. Pfizer and Moderna expect their vaccine candidates to be approved by the FDA before 2020 ends. An overview of the packaging and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in the US has been provided below.

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Who Will Direct The Distribution?

How Vaccines Will be Shipped

  • Pfizer has packaging with a cooling system that can keep the COVID-19 vaccine cold for “up to 30 days if it’s refilled with dry ice every five days.” This will be used to ship the vaccines and also for short-term storage. The system also has a thermal sensor that is GPS-enabled to track the shipment’s temperature and location, and the vaccine can be “stored in ultra-low-temperature freezers for up to six months.”
  • COVID-19 vaccines with ultra-cold requirements for temperature will be shipped directly from manufacturers to the sites of the vaccination providers. The vaccines will be shipped “within 48 hours of order approval” to sites of providers enrolled in the jurisdiction’s immunization program. Ancillary items will be shipped separately from vaccines due to cold chain requirements, but they are expected to arrive on the day or before the day the vaccine arrives.
  • During shipment, federally contracted vaccine distributors will use validated procedures to maintain the vaccine’s cold chain and reduce the likelihood of damage or loss of the vaccine. Once shipped, the federal government will not redistribute or take financial responsibility for redistributing the vaccine.

When Vaccines are Expected to be Delivered

  • Pfizer and Moderna expect their vaccine candidates to be approved by the FDA before 2020 ends. Pfizer will ship only half of the COVID-19 vaccine it had planned to distribute in 2020, but In 2021, their goal is to distribute 1.3 billion doses of the vaccine.
  • Due to the fact that distribution of early doses will be limited, it will likely be necessary for the vaccine to be allocated in phases, with the first phase focusing on healthcare and other essential workers, as well as people who are “at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness.”
  • Approximately a third of U.S. COVID-19 deaths have been of long-term care facility residents. If a vaccine is approved soon, CVS is ready to administer vaccines in these facilities before the end of 2020.
  • In a recent deal between Operation Warp Speed (the government’s vaccine program), Walgreens and CVS, long-term care facilities that sign up as partners to the program will be reached within three weeks. Those that do not sign up will be required to offer the vaccine through different sources such as local jurisdictions or approved local pharmacies.

Who Will Deliver The Vaccines?

Further Reading

  • This report by Vox and this playbook by CDC both provide an in-depth description of what will be required for successful packaging and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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