A nurse prepares to give a man a flu shot.
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The UK became the first country in the world on Wednesday to approve Pfizer and BioNTech's groundbreaking coronavirus vaccine for widespread use. In a way, that was the easy part.
The task now is to bring millions of doses of a vaccine to market with special transportation and storage needs, set up appropriate vaccination sites, and deliver the shots first to the most vulnerable members of the population and health workers.
The vaccination program begins next week, with senior UK officials admitting it won't be easy to implement. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, for example, warned that the vaccination program would be "one of the greatest civil logistical efforts we have faced as a nation," while Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that administering the vaccine would present "immense logistical challenges".
"Make no mistake, this is going to be a challenging introduction," said Dr. Adam Barker and Dr. Tara Raveendran, health analyst for investment group Shore Capital, on Wednesday.
"While the NHS is very familiar with vaccine dispensing (for example, it ships around 15 million flu vaccines a year), the Pfizer / BioNTech candidate has well-labeled features that make it difficult to dispense."
In summary, the analysts summarized the logistical challenges posed by the transportation and delivery of the mRNA-based vaccine, which was being developed at breakneck speed and was found to be 95% effective in preventing Covid-19 in late-stage clinical trials -Infection has proven:
"The candidate has to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius for a longer period of time and is delivered in special delivery containers in which the product can be kept for up to 10 days," they stated.
"Once the containers arrive at a vaccination site, they can be used for an additional 30 days for temporary storage (provided they are refilled with dry ice every five days). Once the vaccine is thawed, it can be stored at refrigerated temperatures (2-8 degrees C) for up to five days. "
Pfizer's UK vaccines come from the company's manufacturing facility in Puurs, Belgium (which, unsurprisingly, is used to supply Europe). Thousands of cans. These are supplied in batches of 975 and kept in special freezer boxes which are then flown or shipped to the UK and distributed to vaccination centers in the hospital.
"Preparation, preparation, preparation"
For those in charge of delivering the vaccine, John Pearson, CEO of DHL Express said, "It's about prep, prep, prep."
The German courier DHL already has a "Medical Express" service that specializes in the delivery of products with specific critical requirements, e.g. B. the need for consistent and constant temperature control. Pearson said the company expected a call "in the near future" asking them to help deliver the Pfizer vaccine to the UK.
"We are focused on picking up the origin and delivery at the destination and ensuring the temperature is maintained throughout the process. This is our part and our great commitment," he told CNBC's Squawk Box Europe on Thursday.
Pearson said the logistical challenge was "right in our wheelhouse".
"Our transit time for each shipment to one of our 220 countries is one to five days. For example, the Pfizer vaccine can maintain its temperature sensitivity for 10 days, so there is even a buffer there," he said.
"Essentially, we have to make sure we all have dangerous goods permits, all active loggers on the boxes making sure the temperature has been maintained throughout the trip, and then deliver them to where we were asked deliver it. "
When are people vaccinated?
The UK has pre-ordered 40 million doses of Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine – enough to vaccinate 20 million people – but the shipment is not fulfilled all at once.
"The 40 million doses will be delivered gradually in 2020 and 2021 to ensure a fair distribution of the vaccines to the regions with executed contracts," Pfizer said on Wednesday.
"After the vaccine is approved in the UK, companies will take immediate action to begin dispensing vaccine doses. The first doses are expected to arrive in the UK in the coming days. Full dispensing is expected to take place in 2021."
A worker passes a row of freezers containing vaccine candidate BNT162b2 for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a Pfizer facility in Puurs, Belgium, in an undated photo.
Pfizer | via Reuters
Health Secretary Hancock told the UK House of Commons on Wednesday that every batch of the vaccine would be screened for safety. "I can confirm that the batch tests for the first delivery of 800,000 doses of the vaccine were completed this morning," he told Parliament.
The country's National Health Service will start vaccinating next week, but Simon Stevens, executive director of NHS England, stressed Wednesday that the bulk of the vaccination program will take place "for the at-risk population" from January 2021 through March and April. ""
The government plans to deliver the vaccine at a later date from 50 "hospital centers" as well as community facilities such as doctors' offices.
Who will get it first?
The UK's Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee (JCVI) set out on Wednesday who it thought should receive the vaccine first, stating that "the first priority for any Covid-19 vaccination program is preventing COVID-19 mortality and vaccination should be the protection of staff and health and social systems. "
The priority list is as follows:
Residents of a nursing home for older adults and their caregivers The over 80s and health and social workers on the front lines The over 75 and over 70 and over and clinically extremely vulnerable people The over 65 and over 16 up to 64 years with underlying health conditions that pose a higher risk of serious illness and mortality. People over 60 years and people over 55 years and over 50 years and older
Shore Capital health analysts said they expected volunteers from a variety of disciplines (from nurses and paramedics to trained volunteers to veterinarians) would be involved in the initiation. On Wednesday, the NHS Volunteers Responders network called on volunteers who could be trained to either deliver the vaccine or help those who receive it.
In addition to the need to recruit staff to dispense the vaccines, another challenge is the need for a robust IT system to keep track of who has been vaccinated. It is also necessary to notify people when they need to receive the candidate's second dose, which is 21 days after the first dose.
"In addition, the Pfizer / BioNTech product must be diluted with saline prior to administration, which is not very common with other vaccines. The coordination of all support components required for the delivery of the candidate (e.g. syringes, alcohol wipes, gloves) must also be coordinated will run smoothly, "added Barker and Raveendran of Shore Capital.