The composition of influenza vaccines varies each year, which puts a lot of pressure to production and distribution chain. Pharmaceutical company Sanofi and Oriola are long-time partners in securing availability and distribution of influenza vaccines all over Sweden. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the importance of influenza vaccines, as there are same risk groups.
This year, influenza vaccinations will start in Sweden in the beginning of November. Before that, millions of doses are manufactured, packed and sent on their way to Europe from Sanofi’s production facilities in France. All this needs to happen in less than six months, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines the composition of the vaccine each year in the spring.
“Influenza vaccines are special products, as big volumes are manufactured in a very short time. One of the critical phases in the production process is filling and packing and then distributing the vaccines all over the world,” says Per Öhlén, General Manager for Sanofi Pasteur in North Europe.
A small batch of stronger influenza vaccine to Sweden for the first time
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is increasing the demand for influenza vaccines this year, as there are same risk groups for both diseases and authorities want to avoid two epidemics spreading at the same time. However, there was no time to adjust production volumes to a higher demand. Therefore, the Public Health Agency of Sweden recommends prioritising the risk groups when vaccinations start.
According to Öhlén, Sanofi is doing its best to meet the demand, and is in fact providing more vaccines to Sweden than ever before. In addition to Vaxigrip Tetra, the standard influenza vaccine, the company is also importing a small batch of a US high dose vaccine to Sweden with a special license.
“Due to the coronavirus, we are bringing this vaccine to Sweden one year earlier than originally planned. The vaccine is intended especially for the elderly: with age, the immune system becomes weaker, so the vaccine contains more antigens to stimulate a better reaction. We see that the vaccine will be increasingly important in the future as the population is getting older and there is a recognised need to protect this group from influenza and complications related to it,” Öhlén notes.
90% of all influenza vaccines are distributed by the end of November
Influenza vaccines arrive in Sweden around the end of September and all through October, and all vaccines intended for adults pass through Oriola. Majority of them are Sanofi’s vaccines, and the two companies have a long history in vaccine distribution. In addition to influenza vaccines, Oriola distributes majority of all vaccines in Sweden to vaccine clinics, healthcare, childcare and schools. But the volumes and the short time frame make influenza vaccines a special case:
“More than 1.8 million doses arrive during a 5 to 6-week period, and 90% are distributed by the end of November. So, the coming months will be hectic to secure safe and on-time deliveries to vaccine clinics all over the country. To succeed, we are extending working hours in our central warehouse in Mölnlycke. Additionally, influenza vaccines require cold temperature conditions during storage and transport, which sets its own twist to the distribution process,” says Andreas Malmberg, Key Account Manager at Oriola.
The vaccines are picked and packed in a cold transport box, which is validated for the right temperature for 48 hours. Normally, the orders are delivered to customers in a day, even in North of Sweden where vaccines are delivered by air.
Reliability of distribution network is critical also for pharmaceutical company, confirms Öhlén:
“Offering people safe and effective vaccines is a huge responsibility. For us, it is important to have a partner, with whom everything works. With influenza vaccines, that means speed of the execution in addition to normal Good Distribution Practises.”