2020 brought many changes to wholesale distribution for life sciences. Heading into 2021, distribution of coronavirus vaccines, optimizing warehouses and distribution systems with technology, and growth in ePharmacy setting the stage for potential industry disruption are some emerging trends sure to impact the industry.
TREND #1: Wholesale Distributors’ Role in Effective Distribution of Coronavirus Vaccines
Managing COVID-19 vaccines is bound to be a top priority for wholesale distributors in 2021, as trials and government authorizations near a close. Many manufacturers have started producing these vaccines in massive quantities as final approvals approach confirmation, but some distribution barriers and potential problems are being brought to light, highlighting a need for agile and cautious wholesale distributors. Various coronavirus vaccine candidates have different cold-chain requirements, which could make transporting them difficult. So far, it seems that Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine candidate must be carefully handled in freezing temperatures and can only be used within one day of refrigerated thawing. Moderna’s vaccine has a similar freezing requirement but can be stored for approximately one week after thaw.
Some parts of the world do not have proper infrastructure to handle these requirements, and healthcare providers in these areas may even need to receive vaccine shipments by animal delivery or solar-powered refrigerator, giving companies like AstraZeneca that are producing vaccine candidates with less stringent refrigeration requirements a competitive edge in these regions. Maersk and COVAXX have established a supply chain management partnership with plans to focus on these developing nations, especially since COVAXX’s candidate has less strict storage requirements, making it more realistically available for distribution in standard grocery refrigeration.
3 billion people live in parts of the world where many vaccine refrigeration requirements are not achievable for effective distribution.
AmerisourceBergen’s Innomar Strategies has taken a role as a 3PL provider for vaccine distribution in Canada, using temperature mapping and systems monitoring. The firm will also support distribution to independent retail pharmacies in the US in a partnership with the US CDC. McKesson has also been in communications with stakeholders and has partnered with the US federal government to distribute vaccines. Wholesale distributors should consider their strengths and capabilities in alignment with the vaccine candidates to best support distribution.
Other transportation issues are being considered, such as the potential for limited freight capacity. For air transport, global-scale capacity needs are estimated to range from 1,000 to 8,000 747 cargo aircraft. This requirement is realistically achievable but will still require proper planning by wholesale distributors. United Airlines has already started to distribute Pfizer’s vaccine in preparation for FDA approval, transporting doses from Europe to Chicago while carrying five times the normal amount of dry ice allowed as specially permitted in order to maintain proper temperatures and increase flexibility. Additionally, both UPS and FedEx are indicating interest and taking preparatory steps for global distribution, with FedEx providing 90 cold-chain facilities across the world.
Keeping these vaccines potent and properly stored across many forms of transportation and multiple points of transfer is likely to be difficult. Providing speed, capacity, and ability to maintain temperature through cold chain storage should be maximized by distributors in order to move as quickly as possible and minimize difficulties. Wholesale distributors can take a lead on coordination between suppliers and healthcare providers or pharmacies to support vaccine availability and have a positive impact on supply chain management. Distributors must have a plan in place to avoid wasting a precious supply of vaccines, leaning on relationships, and cooperation across organizations to help fight the pandemic.
Download the full Life Sciences Wholesale Distribution Trends here.
Contributions by Courtney Loughran