Freezer temperatures, changing availability and large volumes – distribution of corona vaccines is a unique logistics operation in Finland
The corona vaccines have enabled societies to re-open following restrictions. In Finland, the distribution of vaccines has required seamless co-operation from Oriola and authorities. Compared with normal medicine distribution, corona vaccines are unique products due to the volumes involved and the need for freezer temperatures. Their distribution has required agility in changing circumstances and a high-quality cold chain.
The national vaccination programme has been a great effort for healthcare and a demanding logistics operation. As part of this, Oriola has worked hard to secure its successful realisation:
“Secure and reliable medicine distribution is Oriola’s core expertise, where we have decades of experience. In practice, we have been responsible for the distribution chain after the vaccines have entered the country and all the way to the hospital districts. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare has defined required quantities and delivery schedules to various parts of Finland, in accordance with the Finnish Government’s regulation related to corona vaccinations,” says Anne Kariniemi, Vice President of Operations at Oriola.
In Finland there are currently three vaccines protecting against severe COVID-19 disease, and Oriola is distributing Spikevax from Moderna. The vaccines are entering the country in batches, which are delivered forward from Oriola’s distribution centre in arrival order. Warehousing capacity has been increased as the availability of vaccines has improved since early summer.
“In the spring, deliveries were still irregular and quickly distributed to the hospital districts. Gradually the vaccine batches and quantities increased, and now we are in a situation where vaccines are available in Finland for everyone willing to take them. Compared with normal medicines, with corona vaccine distribution we have seen significant variation in delivery volumes and schedules, and of course great demand at the start. This has required agility and flexibility from the distribution process, and close co-operation with authorities,” says Kariniemi.
Close temperature monitoring to ensure quality and usability
Another characteristic of vaccines is their typical requirement for cold temperatures, and exceptional cold for corona vaccines. Normal cold products, such as insulin or influenza vaccines, are kept in 2-8 °C, but Moderna’s vaccine needs to be at freezer temperature through the supply chain until it reaches the hospital districts. Therefore, temperature control during warehousing and transport is the key in ensuring vaccine quality and usability.
“We have solid expertise in handling cold products and high-quality cold chain to ensure operational reliability, but in this regard the corona vaccines are also unique. Normally the freezer products we distribute are mainly hospital products, which are not in as large volumes as the corona vaccines. We have significantly increased our freezer capacity for the corona vaccines, starting from inbound and storage space,” says Kariniemi.
The vaccines arrive at Oriola’s distribution centre in large freezer containers. They are packed in freezer boxes that can be handled at room temperature and transferred directly to adequate warehousing space. Oriola distributes the vaccines to the hospital districts in re-usable cold transport boxes that are designed for freezer deliveries. The inner temperature of the boxes is maintained at minus 15-25 °C for 24 hours. The temperature is monitored with a sensor inside the box.
“The pandemic has had a significant impact on the pharmaceutical industry, which has worked extremely hard to develop and produce the corona vaccines in such a short period of time. The distribution of the vaccines has been a great effort for companies specialised in pharmaceutical logistics such as Oriola, as well as for authorities and healthcare. We are proud of our role in this demanding operation, which enables people and communities to gradually get back to normal,” says Kariniemi.