This is how Covid vaccines are distributed: from the truck, through the freezer, to the patient’s arm

So far, this process has not registered incidents in relation to possible breakage of the vials.

Arrival of Moderna's Covid vaccines at Hefame.

The journey of the vaccines against Covid-19 has its starting point in the facilities of the developing companies. And his destiny is patients from all over the world. The first stage of this journey is the journey from the production plants to each country. Once this first phase is completed, the next phase begins after the receipt of the vials. From there, they go to the freezers until their distribution to the vaccination centers is ordered. A journey that ends when the antigen is inoculated into the patients.

The first vaccine against Covid-19 to arrive in Spain was that of Pfizer, with a first shipment that was received on December 26, 2020. Since then, our country has received a new shipment of doses every Monday. When they arrive at designated storage facilities, “it is done a first review before unloading the goods from the vehicle to check that the packaging has not suffered any visible damage”, Nacho Satorre, Director of Integral Logistics at Hefame, explained to Invertia.

Hefame is the pharmaceutical distributor in charge of the storage and subsequent distribution of vaccines against Covid-19 in Murcia. As Satorre has indicated, this first revision “is common to all antigens, although in the case of Pfizer it is more important since the packaging guarantees the optimal temperature conditions for its conservation”. It should be remembered that this vaccine needs to be stored at -80ºC.

Central facilities of the Hefame Group.

Central facilities of the Hefame Group.

Its conservation at such low temperatures is a logistical challenge. As explained by the Director of Logistics at Hefame, the transfer from the trucks to the ultra-freezers “you have to be quick to prevent the vaccines from thawing“. Before introducing them in these refrigeration chambers “the vials are removed from the boxes, the dry ice is removed and the batch number is checked.” A process “that takes us approximately a minute and a half“.

Vaccines are kept in these ultra-low freezers until it is time to prepare orders. That’s when “we check the vial individually to make sure it’s not broken. In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, the phase of picking (preparation for shipment) is done in normal freezers (between 2ºC and 8ºC). “That’s when it starts. the antigen thawing period..

When extracting the trays of the vials from the ultra-freezers, it is also controlled that doors only open once. “When the Ministry tells us the number of orders, we make a single opening to get the number of vials needed.”

Once the orders have been prepared, they are moved from the refrigeration chamber to the vans of the company, prepared to maintain the vials at temperatures of between 2ºC and 8ºC. And its distribution begins to the centers indicated by the Community Health Council.

Moderna’s Vaccine

In the case of the Moderna vaccine, the reception of the merchandise coincides with that of Pfizer until the moment it is placed in the ultra-freezers, where it is stored at -24ºC. This antigen arrives in boxes with conventional cooling plates.

“Preparing orders for this vaccine is easier. Outside of the shipping cartons, the vials are packaged in boxes of 10 units (Pfizer trays contain 195 vials) and it is usual for the Ministry to require fractions of 10 to avoid handling each vial individually”.

Rovi's technology to fill Moderna's vaccine vials.

Rovi’s technology to fill Moderna’s vaccine vials.

When preparing the order, “we open the boxes to check that the vials are in perfect condition. From there, we move it to another ultra-freezer where the orders remain prepared and stored at -24ºC until they are distributed”.

And it is that, the Moderna vaccine it cannot be defrosted during the journey, since the vibrations can damage it. For this reason, the distribution is made in vehicles prepared to keep the vials at -20ºC.

To keep these temperatures so low”it is required to start the vehicle one hour before the delivery so that it reaches -20ºC“. When it reaches this temperature, “we transfer the orders from the ultra-freezer to the vehicle for distribution,” said Satorre.

The easiest logistics

The simplest logistics is that of the Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca because “it is the one that most resembles the conventional process that we use for other antigens.” This is because doses are kept at a temperature between 2ºC and 8ºC, that is to say, practically the same as those of other vaccines with which Hefame usually works.

A vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

A vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The receiving process is similar to any other vaccine, including those from Pfizer and Moderna. “In the case of AstraZeneca, the type of vehicle and the packaging conditions change, since it does not need dry ice like Pfizer’s,” Satorre recalled.

In any case, they come in refrigerated vehicles which are the ones that are later also used for the distribution of the doses to the health centers. “Once the merchandise is received, a first visual inspection is made to verify the number of packages and that there is no visible deterioration.”

After this, the vaccines are unloaded and taken to an area near the refrigeration chambers. In the case of AstraZeneca, “checking the batches and quantities is done inside these chambers, where the doses are stored until the Ministry makes the orders”.

No incidents

Despite the differences and the complicated logistics of some of these vaccines, for the director of Integral Logistics of Hefame “the management is being quite fast“. And it is that, all the doses that are received on Mondays reach the patients in just “four or five days”.

In addition, he confirmed thatthere have been no incidents in terms of breakage” and has ensured that “it is very strange that there are”. This is because the packaging itself ensures that the vaccines do not break, as does the sturdy material used in the vials.