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Perpetual Peak
From Vanishing Inventory to World-Class Vaccine Distribution
Perpetual Peak
From Vanishing Inventory to World-Class Vaccine Distribution
September 30, 2021

ith the start of the pandemic came fear, uncertainty, and panic-buying. Due to a sudden increase in demand for PPE, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and more, manufacturers were unable to keep inventory stocked. No one could have predicted such a high demand for these products. Raw materials and products were held overseas due to international lockdowns. In addition, the pandemic caused manufacturing plants, airlines, delivery routes, and other essential parts of the supply chain to slow or shut down completely. During the crucial first months of the pandemic, the country had little to no supplies. Doctors, nurses, and other essential workers were forced to reuse masks and other essential PPE to keep them safe.

“Shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for COVID-19 patients, due to limited access to supplies such as gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns, and aprons”

For this reason, when vaccinations were authorized for emergency distribution by the FDA, many supply chain experts had concerns. How could the United States successfully handle millions of vaccines without running into the same supply chain issues identified during the earlier months of the pandemic? Could this plan be scaled and shared internationally? Additionally, the essential refrigeration of the Pfizer Vaccine, as well as the distribution of second doses on time, left even less room for error.

To help prevent a stall in delivery, the United States government created a plan named “Operation Warp Speed,” which
“[uses] the resources of the federal government and the U.S. private sector, [to] accelerate the testing, supply, development, and distribution of safe and effective vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to counter COVID-19.”
Operation Warp Speed provided over four billion dollars in funding to Pfizer and Moderna to advance clinical trials, manufacture, and distribute vaccines.

As of the publishing of this article, Pfizer produces "3.6 million doses of the vaccine, or 600,000 vials” in a sixty-day process. Due to the product volume and the temperature factor involved in both the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine especially, success comes down to precision. One mistake could create huge ripple effects for millions of eager recipients.

In order to ensure that the vaccines do not spoil during transportation, both vaccine manufacturers utilize a cold chain, which is the maintenance of refrigerated temperatures for vaccines from the time they are manufactured through their shipment and delivery to health care facilities until their administration to patients. Specifically, Pfizer has shared that they have “specially designed, temperature-controlled thermal shippers utilizing dry ice to maintain recommended temperature conditions for up to 10 days unopened.” Additionally, Pfizer has stated that they include GPS-enabled thermal sensors in every one of their thermal shippers, which they track and monitor throughout the shipping and delivery process to ensure that they can prevent any potential issues before they happen.

UPS and FedEx are both responsible for a large portion of vaccine movement, with the two corporations “dividing and conquering.” UPS has assumed responsibility for vaccine distribution in the east, while FedEx has taken the west. The two companies have stated that vaccine shipment is their highest priority, even during peak seasons. Moreover, both shipping giants have multiple tracking systems on every item to ensure vaccines are transported safely and accurately. In a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee hearing, UPS President of Global Healthcare, Wesley Wheeler, shared a GPS device that UPS is utilizing, which gives light exposure, temperature, and motion detection in all vaccine packages.

While traveling in the air, the Federal Aviation Administration stated that air traffic controllers will be aware of all planes with vaccines on board and will give priority clearance. While on the ground, UPS uses safety escorts for trucks with vaccines and the US Marshall Service also provides vaccine transport security. UPS and FedEx then deliver vaccines to "locations specified by state regulators."

In summary, Pfizer, Moderna, UPS, FedEx, and other carriers, in collaboration with health officials, governments, and brave workers, have created an effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine distribution across the country. Unlike the supply chain chaos that ensued during the beginning of the pandemic, the country was prepared. 388 million vaccines have been administered in the United States, with this number growing daily. Had it not been for the preparedness and careful planning of each step in the supply chain, this number would not be as high as it is today. With the innovation and swiftness of domestic and foreign supply chains, the future of logistics and vaccine distribution looks very promising.

Michelle Wong
Intern ~ ConnectShip
Michelle Wong recently wrapped up her summer at ConnectShip, conducting a UX/UI design project to enhance ConnectShip's customer experience. She worked cross-functionally with many different ConnectShip teams, such as support, software engineering, business operations, and more. Michelle is entering her senior year at Santa Clara University, pursuing an engineering degree with mechanical engineering and design/innovation minors. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, painting, running, and spending time with family and friends.