Swine Flu: Cold Chain Logistics on a Tight Timescale?

Pharma IQ

There can be little doubt that the H1N1 strain of swine flu has proved just how quickly new diseases can emerge and spread around the world. Almost as soon as cases started to be reported outside of Mexico, the quest for a vaccine began. The lessons to be learned from the new variant of flu do not stop there. As with all vaccines, the product must be stored at between two and eight degrees centigrade - simple enough in a country like the UK, which already has a well-developed cold chain pharma distribution network.

However, storage and transportation are two different things, so how well equipped are countries around the world to roll out temperature sensitive products on a tight timescale? Well, clearly in developed countries, many of the basic challenges have been solved. In fact, it would be something of a scandal to discover that large volumes of a pharmaceutical product have gone to waste in a developed country with a well established framework - wasted products might be more common in less logistically advanced nations, but are they really seen that often in Western Europe and the US? Perhaps not, but still that does not mean these nations can rest on their previous achievement in the field, as in the recent independent review conducted by Dame Deirdre Hine, a former chief medical officer for Wales showed.

She said that although the UK's response to the swine flu pandemic was proportionate, "Britain had been left with vaccines against the H1N1 virus which it did not need, due to the lack of flexibility in the contracts the Government signed."

Storage is not the only problem facing those dealing in pharmaceuticals - getting things to and from depots in the first place can be a major headache in itself. Speaking to Cargo News, Stuart Forsyth, BA World Cargo's global product manager explained the pressures facing both manufacturers and those trying to provide them with solutions.

He said: "Global regulatory requirements, the availability of new and more sophisticated healthcare products and logistics industry development of integrated services for the movement of pharmaceuticals are all coming together to drive an increase in demand for the airfreight of temperature-managed pharmaceuticals."

Stavros Evangelakakis, sales manager at Cargolux, added that, as manufacturers demand perfection every time, there is a massive incentive for logistics firms which are able to innovate. Indeed, with environmental concerns now increasingly high on businesses' lists of priorities, there is now more change than ever for cold chain solution providers to add value to a company.

Perhaps, the first thing in the minds of pharmaceutical companies looking to boost their cold chain capabilities, is the human impact of their efforts. Take for example Envirotainer, a provider of temperature controlled air cargo containers. Over a period of four years the company and its partners transported quantities of vaccines for Sanoif Pasteur without losing a single dose.

Sherman Cheung, supply chain director at Sanoif Pasteur, is certain what made the firm's work such a success.

He said: "This accomplishment can only be achieved through an effective partnership and through the dedicated efforts from everyone on both sides. Innovation, communication and continuous improvement efforts make this unique partnership work."

The project helped ensure that 500 million across the world could be vaccinated against a range of diseases, and Envirotainer was recognised for its "outstanding contribution" to eliminating product loss for its efforts.

So, can pharmaceutical firms meet the challenge presented to them by the ever changing world of cold chain storage and transportation? Looking at Envirotainer the answer is clearly yes. However, as Mr Cheung's comments would suggest, the issue is not straightforward and firms face many challenges, when looking to establish a logistics network.