Bahar Aliakbarian is an expert in supply chain management in pharmaceuticals and a professor at the School of Packaging at Michigan State University. Below, she describes the vaccine supply chains of Pfizer and Moderna, which are expected to be the two major early suppliers of the COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. She also talks about challenges in distribution and the work being done to ensure safe and systematic delivery of the vaccines.
What are the main challenges in distributing the newly developed COVID-19 vaccines?
The two major U.S. developers of the early COVID-19 vaccines are Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. They both developed mRNA vaccines, a relatively new type of vaccine. A major supply chain issue is the temperature requirement for these vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at between minus 112 F (minus 80 C) and minus 94 F (minus 70 C), and the Moderna vaccine needs temperatures around minus 4 F (minus 20 C), which is close to the temperature of commercial-grade freezers. A third company developing vaccines, AstraZeneca, says it needs regular refrigeration temperature of 36 F to 46 F, or 2 to 8 C.
Moderna’s vaccine can remain at minus 4 F for up to six months, and then for a month in a refrigerator, according to the company. Pfizer says its vaccine has a shorter shelf life of five days after being transferred from ultracold storage to a refrigerator, leaving a short window to administer the vaccines.