The Complicated Logistics Of Making And Distributing A COVID Vaccine

Sep 14, 2020

The Serum Institute of India, the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines, is already preparing to produce a COVID-19 vaccine once it's developed. But other plants around the world will also be needed for the billions of doses required.

As the coronavirus continues to spread - and in some cases reinfect people - the U.S., Russia, India and Europe and are under enormous pressure to vaccinate people once a drug becomes available.

The logistics and procurement are quite complicated, according to health experts on a virtual meeting sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations.

One Difficulty: It May Need To Be Stored At -80 Degrees

Special Envoy on Global Collaboration to Fight COVID-19 and former Nigerian Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says the countries have to be prepared to take delivery of the vaccine. "Are they ready to receive the vaccines? What conditions? Is there a cold chain required? What type of cold chain? At what temperature do you need to store this vaccine? I'm hearing -80, some temperatures that we've not dealt with."

She stresses the vaccine must be treated for the global public good so it can reach everyone. Tom Bollyky agrees. He's the director of the Global Health Program for the Council on Foreign Relations. "Which makes them both excludable and rivalrous, meaning one country's use of them will keep them from other people," he says.

8,000 Airplanes Needed

Getting the vaccines to the world's population is no small mission. The International Air Transport Association reports 8,000 Boeing 747 cargo jets are needed to provide a single dose of the vaccine to 7.8 billion people. CNN reports IATA is urging governments to take the lead in procurement.

So far, the U.S. hasn't allocated any money for distribution and administering the vaccines, even though it committed $10 billion to develop a COVID vaccine. USA Today reports McKesson, which distributed H1N1 vaccines during that pandemic, will distribute coronavirus vaccines to doctors' offices and clinics.

Who's Taking The Lead?

The Washington Post reports the CDC has asked four states and one city to draft distribution plans. They include California, Florida, Minnesota, North Dakota and Philadelphia. The hope is these plans will be shared with other states to help with planning. There are some key points Michael Osterholm with the University of Minnesota wanted to get across in the virtual meet-up.

"We want to make sure we don't set ourselves up once the vaccine is here to say we're done. We may be dealing with this virus in unusual ways for many years yet to come," he says.  And he worries about what people will think about vaccines in general if this one doesn't work.

"This is not just about now but about the integrity of our entire vaccine portfolio for now and forever."