Coronavirus

Cold chain risk: What is still stuck with the corona vaccine

Laboratory employee of the company Biontech in Mainz.

Laboratory employee of the company Biontech in Mainz.

Abdulhamid Hosbas / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Hope lives, its name: BNT162b1. This is the name of the corona vaccine developed by the German company Biontech together with the US pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Both companies announced on Wednesday that the agent protects 95 percent of the patients tested from the coronavirus.

Now things should go fast: In the USA, the Biontech / Pfizer vaccine is to be approved as early as December in an urgent procedure. In Germany, too, approval could be available as early as mid-December. Then the first corona vaccinations could start in Germany in just a few weeks.

Could – because a fundamental problem has to be solved beforehand: The Biontech vaccine must be cooled to at least minus 70 degrees for storage and transport. In other words: In order for people to get the vaccine, appropriate logistics must be set up across the country. It must be ensured at all times that the cold chain is not interrupted.

Research by NewsABC.net now shows: After the big problems with protective masks that were procured much too late in the spring, the next trouble is looming. While Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) does not see himself responsible for cooling the vaccine and points to the federal states, some of them have apparently not even started planning to develop the necessary logistics.

In plain language: the vaccine could be ready in a few weeks – but it cannot be transported to the people because the appropriate cooling facilities were purchased too late.

“Procurement of cooling technology by the federal government is currently not planned”

Spahn’s Ministry of Health pointed out the particular challenges in logistics. In the draft of a paper entitled “Recommendations for the organization and implementation of vaccinations against Sars-CoV-2”, which NewsABC.net has, the Ministry of Health wrote as of November 11: “The prompt vaccination of large sections of the population within the shortest possible time frames poses enormous challenges to the stakeholders involved in health care. (…) Some of the new types of vaccines are demanding in terms of transport, storage and handling (…) The timely vaccination of large parts of the population requires a lot of resources in terms of personnel and infrastructure. “

Illustration of the federal government's vaccination strategy in the Ministry of Health's paper.

Illustration of the federal government’s vaccination strategy in the Ministry of Health’s paper.

A resolution of the Health Ministers’ Conference of November 6th also reads: “Due to the special requirements for storage and transport, the delivery of the approved vaccination doses will only be possible to a limited number of locations per federal state. The federal government makes the corresponding organizational arrangements in constant exchange with the states. ”

However, at the request of NewsABC.net to maintain the cold chain, the Federal Ministry of Health does not feel it is responsible. A spokesman: “The Bundeswehr uses existing framework agreements with logistics companies to distribute the vaccine to the federal states. A procurement of cooling technology by the federal government is currently not planned for this purpose. ”

After delivery of the vaccine by the manufacturer or the Bundeswehr to the federal states, they are responsible for the proper handling of the vaccines. “This also applies to maintaining the cold chain right up to the vaccination centers and mobile vaccination teams.”

Many federal states have not yet set up vaccine logistics

In many federal states, however, efforts to establish functioning logistics for the storage and transport of corona vaccines are not beyond the planning phase, according to information from NewsABC.net. That means: The vaccine, which is supposed to herald the end of the corona pandemic, could be ready in the coming month – but the possibilities to transport and administer it threaten to be missing.

In response to a request from NewsABC.net, the health ministries in Saxony-Anhalt and Hamburg announced that their plans for vaccine logistics and compliance with the cold chain had not yet been completed. The Hessian Ministry of Health announced via a spokeswoman that it was working at full speed to “prepare and develop a vaccination strategy”.

The health ministries in Bavaria, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony and Thuringia did not want to comment on the status of the procurement of cooling technology for corona vaccines due to “ongoing procurement procedures”. A Bavarian ministry spokesman simply said: “The budget currently has a total of 100 million euros available in the budget for implementing the entire Bavarian vaccination strategy.” Euros available.

In North Rhine-Westphalia there is only talk of “sufficient funds” for the procurement of cooling technology. Upon request, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health announced that it was “in contract negotiations with a logistics company. Due to the ongoing negotiations, no further information can be given. ”

According to its own statements, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Integration is “in contact with several companies and in this context shortly before the signing of corresponding contracts.” A spokesman did not want to comment on specific names of companies.

In Berlin, any information about vaccine logistics and the procurement of the appropriate cooling technology is considered “confidential”. The Senate Administration in Bremen is more willing to provide information. “We are in contact and negotiations with various providers, and we have already procured cooling technology from various providers,” said a spokesperson for the Senator for Health, Claudia Bernhard. “For the procurement of various vaccination accessories – including cooling technology -, the renting of premises and the provision of personnel, ten million euros were initially released by the Senate.” This sum could be increased.

The responses from the federal states show that a lot is planned, and there is more or less money. But the establishment of the urgently needed vaccine logistics in Germany is not far advanced.

Logistics industry sees corona vaccine as an “unprecedented challenge”

In the coming year, according to the vaccination strategy of the Ministry of Health, “a high rate of vaccination should be achieved, as this is the prerequisite for the development of broad immunity in the population.” For this purpose, vaccination centers and vaccination centers will be set up throughout the country. In Lower Saxony alone there are to be 60 vaccination centers, in Rhineland-Palatinate 36, in Thuringia 29, in Saxony each district is to have at least one vaccination center, in Saxony-Anhalt 14 are planned. Functioning cooling logistics are a prerequisite for these to work as intended. But it is not there now.

After all: The logistics groups Kuehne + Nagel and DHL informed the German Press Agency (dpa) on Wednesday that they had been in talks with the vaccine developers for a long time and had already concluded the first logistics contracts for Covid-19 vaccines. Karen Reddington, Fedex’s head of Europe, told the dpa that the logistics industry had to face an “unprecedented logistics challenge”.

Deutsche Post DHL is therefore even considering buying several hundred particularly cold freezers. “We screen our infrastructure for the capacities to be able to deliver at minus 20 or minus 70 degrees”, says the responsible DHL manager Thomas Ellmann. “The amount of frozen products that the logistics industry has to deal with because of Covid-19 is a major challenge.” Ellmann also pointed out a problem at the end of the supply chain: “Neither pharmacy nor doctors have suitable deep-freeze capacities.”

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