Ready for a vaccine part 2 – a web series in association with Peli BioThermal

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Welcome to part 2 of Ready for a vaccine, an Aviation Business News web series analysing how the air cargo industry is preparing to – and in some cases starting to – safely and speedily transport Covid-19 vaccines around the world.

An extensive article features in the just-published Winter 2020 issue of Airline Cargo Management, based on interviews with companies from across the industry spectrum. This web series, brought to you in association with Peli BioThermal, goes into even greater depth.

Each of the interviews conducted for the article will be presented in full over the course of the week, as we ask whether the air cargo industry is prepared for the scale of handling, transportation and distribution of these vaccines.

This second instalment features Peli BioThermal’s director of worldwide marketing Adam Tetz and vice president of Crēdo on Demand Dominic Hyde. [Click here to read the first part of the series.]

What is Peli BioThermal doing to prepare for the distribution of potential Covid-19 vaccines – what are the main tasks to achieve in order to ramp up operations for it and what kind of collaboration has there been? Does it require the introduction of additional services or infrastructure?

Adam Tetz: Peli BioThermal extensively expanded its deep frozen product range in response to the pandemic demand to meet Covid-19 vaccine shipping requirements. Our new offerings will ensure pharmaceutical companies have the correct temperature-controlled packaging at all phases of drug discovery and distribution with temperature ranges of -80°C to -20°C.

Peli BioThermal’s experienced engineers expanded the company’s range to support the growing need for increased deep-frozen temperature ranges and payload capacities as pharmaceutical companies and their supply chains prepare to bring Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics to market.

Our deep-frozen product portfolio includes ‘Crēdo Cube’, ‘CoolGuard Advance’, ‘CoolPal Flex’, ‘Sherpa Systems’, ‘Crēdo Xtreme’ and ‘Crēdo Cargo’ shippers. These lines include parcel and pallet sizes, as well as offering both single use and reusable temperature-controlled shippers. Many of these expanded temperature ranges are also available through the company’s Crēdo on Demand rental programme.

Peli BioThermal’s deep frozen products use phase change material (PCM) and dry ice systems to provide frozen payload protection with durations from 72 hours to 144+ hours. Payload capacities range from 1 to 96 litres for parcel shippers, and 371 to 1,686 litres for pallet shippers.

These new deep frozen solutions are ideal for short-term vaccine storage, redirect courier transport of vaccines from freezer farm hubs to immunisation locations and daily vaccine replenishment to remote and rural areas.

The rate at which we have been able to produce the new adapted product range is unprecedented. We’re providing temperature-controlled packaging solutions for every stage of the pandemic recovery with our teams working two shifts, seven days a week, to keep up with building completed products and subcomponents.

A key element is the storage temperature – how will this challenge be overcome in terms of there being enough air cargo containers and packaging capable of transporting the vaccine? 

Some of this will be overcome by rapidly expanding the deep frozen cold chain infrastructure, such as blast freezer farms at distribution hubs.

Other solutions will be packaging like ours keeping the doses cold during immunisation clinics, like mobile dry ice freezers. Some of this will be less rigorous, and rely on the existing cold chain infrastructure or packaging, as some vaccines are already showing more efficacy at temperatures warmer than -80°C.

What are the next steps?

Planning and building the cold chain distribution network, which has been going on for months already, as the vaccines were developed and then trialled.

Next is to complete building those networks, have redundancies and back-up plans and be adaptable to unexpected vaccine demand, delivery delays and spikes in localised infection rates.

There will be many parties involved in the process. What are your biggest concerns?

Choke points in the cold chain distribution network worldwide. There must be an unbroken chain of the temperature required from the manufacturing plant to the physician’s office.

Airplanes, trucks, warehouses must all be part of that cold chain network to deliver a safe and effective immunisation for each patient.

Shippers from Peli BioThermal are used regularly to transport vital temperature sensitive products by air to their clients, as the above video demonstrates

As vaccine developments continue to accelerate in the fight against Covid-19, Peli BioThermal vice president of Crēdo on Demand Dominic Hyde looks at the pandemic repercussions on the worldwide deployment of pharmaceuticals and the impact on air cargo.

The ongoing impact of Covid-19 continues to evolve at a rapid rate. In the early stages this saw the industry reacting to flight schedules being drastically cut, resulting in rapid re-planning of shipments worldwide.

As part of the fight against Covid-19, initial efforts focused on transporting ventilators, supporting clinical trials, deploying Covid-19 test kits and reagents and those therapies known to help with recovery from coronavirus.

Now we are moving into a new phase where the industry is preparing for the distribution of the first vaccines and new therapies, which will hopefully play an important role in bringing our lives back to some semblance of normality.

Peli BioThermal vice president of Crēdo on Demand Dominic Hyde

While there were previous downturns in air passenger numbers during the SARS outbreak, the level of lockdowns this year have been unprecedented. Uncertainty remains around how flight schedules will develop with airlines predicting it will take years to get back to where they were pre-pandemic, and thousands of jobs lost across the industry.

Airlines such as Lufthansa, Qantas and Delta are looking at retiring certain aircraft early and most of those aircraft will be the older, larger variants in the fleet. I think we will end up with leaner fleets with smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft and a material drop in the available cargo capacity moving forward.

When it comes to the shipment of pharmaceutical payloads, we may see some being transported by sea freight. However, the only way to get that pharma product to the market quickly is air freight; therefore the value proposition of air freight for temperature controlled pharma is going to persist.

Covid-19 vaccines and therapies are being developed and proven at an unparalleled rate – ‘warp speed’ as the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) would say. The supply chains for these vaccines and therapies are of an unprecedented size and require temperatures normally reserved for more niche products like low volume APIs and plasma.

At Peli BioThermal, our commercial engineering team is working with customers to adapt to the form factors, temperature, autonomy, volume and service they require. Not just for bulk shipping, from manufacturing to distribution centre, but truly from production to patient, wherever they may be in the world.

There are still many unknowns in this fast-paced environment but everyone’s working to ensure the condition of a treatment or vaccine at the time of dosage is not one of them.

In response to the pandemic we’ve extended the temperature ranges supported by our services as many of the new vaccines will require frozen and deep-frozen temperatures. For the first time, we’ve brought our single use product lines for Covid-19 related distribution projects into our global service centres.

The sheer volume of vaccines and therapies that are going to be transported as part of our fight against Covid-19 simply cannot be transacted with the reusable fleets that exist today. By bringing in our single use pallet shippers, like ‘CoolPall Vertos’ and ‘CoolPall Flex’, we’re able to offer the volume this pandemic requires.

Covid-19 will continue to change the pharmaceuticals market in 2021. I think the challenge from a commercial standpoint is how its supply chain adapts throughout 2021, including how it adapts to the lower air cargo capacities that will be available in the market. It will be interesting to see what the air cargo economics look like as a result of the reduced capacity and whether that might drive pharma shippers into other modes or means.

What is certain is that the global pandemic will have ongoing and far reaching repercussions on the pharmaceuticals market this year and beyond.

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