5 months ago

COVID-19 vaccine delivery brings unique supply chain management challenges

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, “COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Will Challenge Cargo Airlines,” Doug Cameron, the WSJ’s deputy bureau chief in Chicago, lays out what pharmaceutical makers, cargo shipper and the entire medical services industry will face in delivering yet-to-be-approved vaccines to hospitals, medical offices and pharmacies across the United States and around the globe. Cameron’s article focuses on the air cargo segment of this specialized supply chain, which is already suffering from a shortage of planes equipped with the carefully controlled refrigeration transport and storage these vaccines will require. His findings in that segment of the vaccine supply chain raise real concerns and beg the question of what else needs to be done to ensure virtually every step in this critical health care delivery process succeeds.

Glenn Richey, Harbert Eminent Scholar and Chair of the Department of Supply Chain Management at Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, points out that the air transport leg is only one link in this complex supply chain — and far from the most challenging. In a recent interview, Richey identifies a host of supply chain issues embedded in the forthcoming delivery of approved COVID-19 vaccines and offers insight into what needs to be done to ensure success.

Let’s start with what makes vaccines different from other cargo, even other refrigerated cargo, when it comes to ensuring the safe, reliable delivery of hundreds of millions of doses like what’s coming for COVID-19.

The refrigeration requirements for these vaccines will go beyond traditional cold shipping and storage capabilities. The most promising vaccines under development will have to be kept at an extremely low constant temperature from production to the patient in order to prevent spoiling. Experts expect there to be two temperature ranges depending on the vaccine: around freezing and minus 70 degrees Celsius. Each of these two ranges presents a significantly different challenge to transport and storage planners working to ensure the safety of vaccines delivered to health care providers and their patients. That’s number one.

Number two is that the issue of spoilage goes beyond patient safety — these vaccines are expected to be in scarce supply early on, there may not be enough to go around. With pharma executives reporting typical spoilage rates for other vaccines during transport at 5% to as much as 20% because of inadequate temperature control, getting cold storage shipping control just right is critical to the expansion of availability.

And finally, we’re talking huge volumes — Pfizer and one of their manufacturing partners, BioNTech, are among a handful of companies in advanced stages of testing their vaccine. These two companies alone are contractually committed to supplying over 450 million doses to U.S. and foreign governments once they have completed trials showing the vaccine to be safe and effective. High volume shipments of millions of doses will trim down to deliveries of 100 or less by the time they reach your local provider.

So, to be clear, it’s a whole new ball game.

So where does the transportation component of supply chain management come into all of this, and where does it rank in terms of “must do” priorities?

According to the IFPMA (International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations), the transport and storage component of the supply chain is at the top of their list of concerns. The IFPMA recently reported that optimization of supply chain is extremely important to reduce the cold chain footprint, limit waste, and increase vaccination coverage and safety. And the public’s trust in these vaccines may be eroded if people fear the vaccines have been mishandled. So, this is a uniquely challenging endeavor.

In his article, the WSJ’s Doug Cameron focuses on the air cargo phase of the vaccine delivery process, commenting on everything being done to ensure high volume quantities of approved vaccines get to major airports and the refrigeration storage facilities being built nearby to hold them. But that’s just the first leg of transport, right? What happens to these vaccines once they land?

That’s correct — and ensuring delivery through that first leg is no small feat. But pharmaceutical companies and their shippers are experienced in this, and they appear to be building contingency plans for the bulk transport and storage capabilities necessary to get vaccines into large metropolitan areas and even to regional airports that serve surrounding populations. It is the next phase of the distribution process where it can get tricky — on the ground. From long-haul truckers to short-route delivery vans, fleets with specialized refrigeration capabilities will have to be allocated to get vaccines to where they are needed: hospitals, medical offices and even drug stores like CVS and Walgreens.

Let’s start with long-haul truckers, those with refrigerated semi tractor-trailers—“reefer trucks,” as they’re called—are they in as high demand as refrigerated air cargo planes?

I’d say perhaps even higher. For one thing, reefer trucks are already in tight supply due to the shifts in ground transportation of produce and other foods during COVID-19. There simply aren’t enough to meet demand, especially over the time frame when the first vaccines are expected to become available—the coming holiday season. The growth of e-commerce—already on a steep ramp before the pandemic—has scooped up capacity from retailers struggling from severe declines in brick-and-mortar foot traffic. Savvy businesses have already worked to reserve ground shipping capacity for the next three months, just when vaccine makers are expected to begin delivery.

And truck manufacturers are responding to the coming uptick in demand. FTR Transportation Intelligence, which tracks orders of semis and trailers, recently reported a tremendous uptick in orders. According to FTR, “Dry van orders were particularly robust, with refrigerated vans also displaying strength…Backlogs are expected to rise to near pre-pandemic levels.” While these recent orders are encouraging, deliveries of this new capacity are at least four months out.

What about local delivery fleets, those serving the “last mile” leg needed to reach smaller medical facilities and drug stores—how equipped are major delivery providers like FedEx, UPS and even the US Postal Service to provide the tightly monitored delivery of cold chain vaccines to all these points of care?

That’s going to be complex as well. Think of the sheer number of certified refrigeration units that will need to be manufactured, purchased, delivered and brought into operation by a wide variety of regional and local shippers—that alone will be a challenge. Then consider all the processes and procedures that will need to be put into place—how often are the vaccine shipments tested to ensure vitality and sterility? Who is responsible for ensuring the chain isn’t broken—and if it is, who is liable? All the large shippers have access to specialized liability insurance to cover these circumstances, but smaller shippers may not, further compounding the coming squeeze.

That all sounds ominous, are all these efforts bound to fail? Can nothing be done?

No, there’s still time to act. But it will likely take an all-hands-on-deck, tightly coordinated effort by federal, state and local government working hand in hand with private industry to pull it off. From what I’ve read, some of that is already happening through Operation Warp Speed.

What advice would you give the members of Operation Warp Speed as the plan for the coming roll-out of vaccines?

I assume the members of Operation Warp Speed are pulling together the very best in pharmaceutical development and delivery and are well into their planning process. Among the “advice” I would give them would include the following major considerations and steps:

  • Map it out — How many vaccines need to go where, when and by which routes and carriers? Prioritizing the most vulnerable—doctors, nurses, hospital staff and other first responders—will be key, and documenting the successes and failures of the initial roll-out to them before ramping up volume shipments to patients themselves can help refine best practices going forward.
  • Reserve space now — It is better to have sufficient capacity contracted now rather than to wait until a more definitive estimate of vaccine availability emerges and cold storage capacity is harder to find. It is not a matter of “if” but “when.”
  • Engage Defense Department and other government logistics expertise — The military has decades of proven expertise getting medical supplies into some of the most forbidding places on earth, surely those skills, procedures and equipment can serve a valuable role in the delivery of these vaccines. FEMA, too, has a place in this process—they have extraordinary capabilities to act in a crisis like the one we face in the coming months. These resources are typically called upon in an emergency—and this pandemic certainly counts as one.
  • Finally, tap into American ingenuity — we lead the world in medical device technology, and our businesses have the ability to create new products and services to meet the needs of cold chain vaccine delivery, to pivot design skills and manufacturing capacity of new technologies, new methodologies. Auto manufacturers and others responded to the need for ventilators, we can do it again with cold storage and transport.

(Courtesy of Auburn University)

7 hours ago

Alabama lineworker training programs graduate spring classes

Bishop StateLawson State and Jefferson State community colleges are investing in the future by offering technical training programs to prepare students for careers in the skilled trades.

Through this innovative partnership, students can learn the fundamentals of electricity as well as the math and science knowledge needed to work on power lines. In addition to classroom instruction, students receive hands-on practice in an outdoor learning laboratory, honing their new skills so they are job-ready upon graduation.

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This spring, 39 students successfully completed lineworker training programs in Birmingham and Mobile.

As part of its ongoing commitment to workforce development, Alabama Power Company partners with these colleges to offer lineworker training programs.

“We are excited to partner with these outstanding colleges and provide opportunities for Alabamians to train for great, safe careers as lineworkers,” said Jeff Peoples, Alabama Power executive vice president of Customer and Employee Services. “Helping ensure our state’s workforce is well-represented and prepared to succeed today and in the economy of the future is an important way we seek to elevate Alabama.”

Post-graduation response has been favorable from hiring companies.

“Alabama Power and other utility partners have been extremely impressed with the quality of hires from these programs,” said Tom McNeal, Alabama Power Workforce Development Program manager. “I encourage utility companies and contractors seeking quality candidates and students interested in applying for the programs to contact the school in their area.”

Potential students who want to apply or learn more about the program should contact:

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 hours ago

Smiths Station celebrates two decades through new city clock

This June, Smiths Station will mark 20 years of incorporation, and the city is planning to celebrate the past, present and future in the most momentous way. City officials led by Mayor F.L. “Bubba” Copeland unveiled a city clock that will honor history while looking to the future.

Nestled between Phenix City and Columbus, Georgia, Smiths Station is one of the three fastest-growing cities in Alabama, according to state officials. Incorporated in 2001, the Smiths Station community was founded in the early 1700s. It had an estimated population of 5,345 people in 2020.

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Copeland, the second mayor in city history, offered appreciation to the first administration in setting standards for Smiths Station’s successful 20-year history as a city.

“Thanks to the previous administration, former Mayor LaFaye Dellinger and the City Council that laid the groundwork, it was easy for us to build on that foundation, build the roof and with each passing administration, the building will get fancier and fancier,” he said.

Copeland went on to say, “the clock represents time set upon us and what we do in life.”

He said the city and community deserve the landmark and all that it signifies.

Melissa Gauntt, the daughter of Dellinger, expressed her gratitude to the foundation. She said of her mother’s work: “I know the time and commitment that she gave to the city in her 16 years as the mayor and even before becoming mayor in leading the efforts to incorporate the city. “It is truly befitting that this beautiful clock be representative of these deeds and is a striking addition to the front of City Hall.”

The clock is in downtown Smiths Station at 2336 Lee County Road 430. For more information about the city of Smiths Station, visit www.smithsstational.gov.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 hours ago

Hyundai lending cutting-edge hydrogen fuel cell SUV to Alabama State University

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) will lend one of the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell sport utility vehicles, the Hyundai NEXO, to Alabama State University for an extended evaluation period.

Robert Burns, Hyundai’s vice president of Human Resources and Administration, made the announcement at a news conference April 6 joined by ASU President Quinton Ross in front of the ASU Lockhart Gym.

“This is truly a great time to be a Hornet as we celebrate the continuing partnership between Hyundai and Alabama State University,” Ross said. “Several weeks ago, Hyundai and ASU came together as the university hosted a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for the employees of Hyundai, and today we witness ASU partnering with Hyundai again as it loans us its high-technology vehicle, the NEXO, which will allow us to expose our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students to this first-of-a-kind vehicle.”

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The Hyundai NEXO is the first hydrogen fuel cell SUV available for commercial sale in the world. It uses hydrogen to produce electricity for the vehicle’s electric power train and its only emission is water vapor. The Hyundai NEXO is available for sale only in California. Although the NEXO is not assembled at the Montgomery plant, HMMA has two Hyundai NEXOs that are part of a ride and drive program.

“The groundbreaking spirit behind the NEXO mirrors our own mission to be an innovative manufacturer of current and future mobility solutions,” Burns said. “The partnership between ASU and Hyundai began a few weeks ago with the COVID-19 vaccine clinic. The system ASU had in place was smooth, efficient and it worked well. Today, we extend that partnership with the evaluation of the Hyundai NEXO by the university. We are excited again to be working with Alabama State University.”

ASU hosted the first of two COVID-19 vaccination clinics for Hyundai employees March 26-27. ASU Health Center personnel will administer the vaccine’s second doses to them April 16-17.

“Our partnership between ASU and Hyundai has been smooth and wonderful,” said Dr. Joyce Loyd-Davis, senior director of ASU’s Health Services. “Today’s event and our April COVID-19 vaccine’s second-round injections to Hyundai’s employees is a great example of ASU and Hyundai’s relationship jelling and extending into the future.”

Montgomery County District Judge Tiffany McCord, an ASU trustee, thanked Hyundai for being a team partner with ASU. “This is yet another positive example of President Ross putting his vision of ‘CommUniversity’ into action, which is good for both Hyundai and ASU,” McCord said.

She was joined at the news conference podium by fellow trustee Delbert Madison. “Thanks to the Hyundai family, which is a major contributor to our community,” he said. “When Hyundai shows up, it shows out.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

Auburn University’s Department of Animal Sciences partners with Winpak to extend shelf life of food

Auburn University’s College of Agriculture and its Department of Animal Sciences are teaming up with global packaging manufacturer and distributor Winpak to focus on research to extend the shelf life of meat and food products.

The food product packaging research began in October 2020.

“We are grateful and excited for the unique learning opportunities that will come from utilizing a collaborative partnership,” said associate professor Jason Sawyer. “Through this partnership, Winpak and Auburn University will aid their shelf life research through the placement of a VarioVac Rollstock Packaging Machine provided by Winpak.”

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Collaborating with Winpak and working with industry leaders will not only enhance and contribute to diverse research experiences within the graduate program, but will provide undergraduate students with real-world meat and food packaging involvement, Sawyer said.

“We anticipate this project will work as the foundation to a significant relationship with Winpak, as Auburn University works in tandem with company experts to produce cutting-edge protein packaging and shelf-life solutions,” he said.

The Auburn University meat science research team goal is to provide more product value and reduce markdowns and waste at the retail counter.

Research evaluating alternative packaging of protein products can provide greater knowledge about creating safer products for consumers as a result of less microbial growth.

“Winpak is excited to partner with Auburn University on this unique opportunity,” said Tom Bonner, protein market director at Winpak and an Auburn alumnus. “Developing packaging concepts is an area where Winpak feels Auburn’s Lambert-Powell Meat Laboratory can add valuable knowledge and insight.”

Leaders in the protein industry are looking for innovative and sustainable solutions to the ever-changing demand for new packaging concepts, Bonner said.

“As Winpak continues to develop sustainable packages for the protein market, we hope this partnership will attract these industry leaders to the Lambert-Powell Meat Laboratory to conduct packaging trials and ideation sessions,” he said.

The packaging equipment at Auburn will allow for student interactions with industry leaders. The goal will be to expose students early in their pursuit of career options and facilitate better-informed students entering the workforce. The protein industry will need strong, innovative leaders to develop creative ideas to keep up with the demand for meat proteins.

“Supporting our customers and upcoming food manufacturing leaders is something we take very seriously at Winpak,” Bonner said. “We anticipate that our new collaborative relationship with Auburn University will be the spark to many unique and interesting ideas for the protein industry.”

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

Nearly $100 million targeted for wildlife injured by 2010 oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

The Deepwater Horizon Regionwide Trustee Implementation Group, which includes trustee representatives from four federal agencies and the five Gulf Coast states, is seeking public input on the first post-settlement draft restoration plan.

The regional approach exemplifies collaboration and coordination among the trustees by restoring living coastal and marine resources that migrate and live in wide geographic ranges, as well as linking projects across jurisdictions.

The plan proposes $99.6 million for 11 restoration projects across all five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, and specific locations in Mexico and on the Atlantic coast of Florida. Comments will be accepted through May 6. The trustees are hosting two public webinars with open houses for questions and answers on April 15.

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The draft restoration plan evaluates projects that would help restore living coastal and marine resources injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill through a portfolio of 11 projects:

  • Four projects ($18.6 million) to help restore sea turtles.
  • Three projects ($7.2 million) to help restore marine mammals.
  • One project ($35.8 million) to help restore and increase the resilience of oyster reefs.
  • Two projects ($31 million) to help restore birds.
  • One project ($7 million) to help restore both sea turtles and birds.

The public is encouraged to review and comment on the draft plan through May 6 by submitting comments online, by mail or during the virtual public meetings.

Information on how to submit your comments are at the latest Regionwide Restoration Area update.

During the April 15 virtual meetings, trustees will present the draft plan and take public comments. Register and learn more about the webinars and interactive open houses.

The draft plan and more information about projects, as well as fact sheets, are posted on the Gulf Spill Restoration website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)