Canadian Manufacturers and Supply Chain Prepare for Future COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

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TORONTO – As a second major pharmaceutical company announces promising trial results for a potential COVID-19 vaccine, Canadian companies are preparing to meet the logistical challenges of storing millions of doses in extremely cold temperatures. Danby, based in Guelph, Ont., Maker of compact appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, microwaves and air conditioners, will soon announce production of a new line of -80 C freezers, said the CEO and Business owner Jim Estill at CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

He said the company is finalizing the specifications and will officially announce the new line next week. He said full production would take around 120 days, “which is not out of sync with the schedule of requirements. ”

Estill expects very cold warehouses to be required in hospitals, pharmacies and message centers across Canada to process approximately 70 million vials of vaccine that require two doses for each recipient.

360 Medical, which supplies cold storage equipment to laboratories, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies, sees a “massive increase in demand” for -80 ° C freezers, President Paul Greco told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview.

The distributor based in Schomberg, Ont., Is responding to inquiries from doctors, hospitals and the Red Cross, he said.

Freezers range from around $ 8,500 to $ 20,000, but Greco says even small units can hold around 20,000 doses.

360 Medical supplier Haier Biomedical, based in China, has assured that the supply of hyper-cold storage equipment will not be an issue, Greco said.

Moderna made headlines on Monday with its reports that preliminary data from clinical trials for its vaccine candidate shows 94.5% effectiveness in preventing COVID-19.

Last week, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced similar results for its vaccine candidate.

The two companies are developing what’s called mRNA vaccines, a new technology that doesn’t include any of the coronaviruses themselves, but instead contains a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognize the virus. Both require a cold room, but the requirements vary.

“The mRNA vaccines are essentially new, but they are the vaccines of the future. The need now is the coronavirus, but it will also be used for other vaccines, ”said Estill.

Moderna and Pfizer have both said they will seek emergency use authorization from U.S. regulators within weeks.

The news gives hope as cases of COVID-19 increase in Canada, the United States and many parts of the world. But the challenge of producing and distributing a future vaccine to millions of people in this large and widely dispersed country is daunting.

It doesn’t matter that all countries in the world are competing for vaccine supply at the same time.

Moderna President Dr Stephen Hoge said Monday that “many vaccines” would be needed to meet global demand.

Canada has signed agreements with seven vaccine developers, including Pfizer and Moderna, to reserve millions of doses of approved vaccines.

Purolator CEO John Ferguson said Canada has the supply chain infrastructure to meet the challenge and his company is also ready to deliver a vaccine to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and facilities. long-term care.

“We’re used to shipping across Canada to every nook and cranny, every city, every suburb and every rural area,” he said in a telephone interview from Toronto.

“It’s on a large scale, but I have no doubts that Canada is in good shape.

Extremely cold storage will be required in central distribution centers, where vaccine vials can remain for days or weeks. But during the “last mile” courier delivery that Purolator specializes in, temperatures can be maintained by ice packs, dry ice or other packaging, Ferguson said.

The distribution system is already in place to handle flu shots and other immunizations, as well as a wide range of time-sensitive cancer therapies and other drugs, Ferguson said.

The distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine will build on this experience, with Purolator adding dedicated workers, equipment and trucks.

“It’s going to require governments, manufacturers and the supply chain to come together to make sure everything is done right.”

Danby, which has been operating in Canada since 1947 and also has a subsidiary in the United States, launched a medical refrigerator last year and has stepped up its engineering since the emergence of COVID-19, Estill said.

“We are doing everything we can. It’s a top priority for the company, ”said Estill, owner of Danby since 2015.

“It can have a very significant impact around the world. A vaccine is no good if it cannot be distributed or stored. ”

Danby has also turned to building ventilators in partnership with Canadian medical device maker Baylis Medical and has built approximately 6,500 of the 10,000 planned. The company also donated 500 UV light air purifiers to the Toronto District School Board.

An ongoing production challenge focused on responding to COVID-19 is securing the necessary components, which are in short supply, Estill said.

Danby’s first super-cold freezer will be about 10 cubic feet, about half the size of a large consumer chest freezer, and will cost C $ 10,000. This size will be easily shipped and plugs into a normal wall outlet, Estill said, but future production will include a range of sizes.

“The complexity of building a -80 ° C freezer is enormous. It’s not a simple freezer at all, but we make half a million freezers a year, so we can do it.

To compare the cold, Health Canada recommends that home freezers be set to -18 ° C or less to ensure food safety. Dry ice, which is carbon dioxide in a solid state, also freezes at a temperature of -80 ° C. Touching frozen items at these temperatures with bare hands for more than a second can result in frostbite which may require hospital treatment.

Pfizer Canada spokesperson Christina Antoniou said in a statement provided to CTVNews.ca that the company is “urgently working” with governments and public health authorities to “determine the logistics of vaccine distribution in Canada, pending regulatory approval ”.

She said the company will manufacture a vaccine at multiple sites in the United States and Europe and transport on a “just in time” system.

“For Canada, our distribution approach will be to ship largely from our manufacturing sites directly to the point of use.

Pfizer will use dry ice to maintain storage temperatures for up to 15 days, as well as GPS thermal sensors in each “thermal shipper” that can be tracked at every stage of delivery.

“These GPS-enabled devices will allow Pfizer to proactively prevent unwanted deviations and act before they occur,” she wrote.

Depending on their formulation, vaccines may have different storage requirements.

Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine candidate can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures (2 C to 8 C) for 30 days and at -20 C for six months. It is also stable at room temperature for up to 12 hours, according to company data.

Pfizer’s candidate will require a long-term deep freeze, the company says. This has led to the use of ultra-cold freezers in the United States, but raises concerns that rural hospitals will not be able to afford the units, which cost up to US $ 15,000 each.

The STAT medical news site says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised state health departments against purchasing ultra-cold freezers, with the idea that other vaccines with less storage requirements. requirements will be available soon.

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