The Supply Chain Matters blog provides a bi-weekly summary capsule of news reports that have implications for various industry supply chains.

With COVID-19 coronavirus news once again on the rise, we provide this feature to assist our readers in their efforts to keep updated on noteworthy developments. For reference, our most previous capsule updates were published on November 16 and October 27.

Companies, institutions and product categories included in this update include:

COVID-19 Industry Supply Chain News

Johns Hopkins- Coronavirus Global Wide Status

Two Promising COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates Ramp-Up

FAA Confirms Initial Air Shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine

UPS to Accelerate Dry Ice Production

Amazon Announces Online Digital Pharmacy Services

Amazon Continues Global Hiring Spree



Global Deaths Attributed to COVID-19 Coronavirus Nearing 1.3 Million

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, since the first data was recorded by Johns Hopkins earlier this year, global wide COVID-19 infections have now surpassed over 63 million positive cases, an increase of 9 million since our last bi-weekly update. The global wide COVID-19 infection rate now approaching 900,000 cases daily and is expected to continue. Indeed with the Northern Hemisphere nations now approaching the winter months when more people reside indoors, there remains increased concerns for added outbreaks in the coming weeks. The top five countries for infection rates remains the same as our last update:

United States–       13.5 million cases

India–                     9.4 million cases

Brazil–                    6.3 million cases

Russia-                    2.275 million cases

France–                   2.273 million cases

The global death toll attributed to this virus is now exceeds 1.5 million victims, an increase of 200,000 from our last bi-weekly update. The United States continues to lead and trend upwards. The top five countries with reported deaths include:

  1. United States– 267,635 (An increase of nearly 21,000 deaths since our last update)
  2. Brazil– 172,833 (An increase of 7,035 deaths since our last update)
  3. India– 137,139 (An increase of 7,069 deaths since our last update)
  4. Mexico– 105,655 (An increase of 7,131 deaths since our last update)
  5. United Kingdom– 58.545 (An increase of 6,337 deaths since our last update.

Daily infection and hospitalization rates in the United States remain at record highs as individual U.S. States continue to impose mandatory face mask use, along with added restrictions for travel and nighttime curfews. As of this writing, across the U.S. there are reported to be in excess of 243.8 hospitalizations per 100,00 population according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than at any time during the pandemic and pushing many medical care facilities to their limits. The situation remains particularly acute in the U.S. Upper Midwest and Plains states where rural hospital facilities are being overwhelmed with hospitalizations and consequent critical cases.  With the Thanksgiving holiday being celebrated last week with large numbers of travelers reportedly heading home for the holiday, U.S. healthcare officials remain very concerned for even higher infection rates.

Likewise, concerns are rising relative to increasing infection rates across Europe and other continents.


Two Promising COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates Ramp-Up

Since our last update, there has been news of a third promising vaccine candidate from the partnership of Oxford University and pharmaceutical firm Astra Zeneca. However, initial data released as to initial effectivity rates have suddenly be called into question due to confusion over the initial dosing rate given to trial patients. Astra Zeneca has since announced a new trial and a review of overall cumulative data.

Development partners Pfizer and BioNTech reported preliminary Phase 3 test trial results of 90 percent effectivity on the named BNT162b2 vaccine, and biotechnology developer Moderna with preliminary phase trial data shows its coronavirus vaccine mRNA-1273 at more than 94 percent remain on -track to request emergency authorization some time in the middle to late December.

Since our last update, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech became the first developers to seek emergency clearance in the U.S. with the application expected to be reviewed by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) on December 10. If granted clearance, vaccine supplies are expected to be distributed to highest priority patients within 24 hours after approval.

Today, Moderna indicated plans to request emergency use authorization for its vaccine in the United States and conditional marketing authorization in Europe sometime this week after additional analysis on effectivity rates.  The CEO of Moderna indicated that once the vaccine receives emergency U.S. clearance, the maker’s entire available vaccine inventory will be shipped to the United States. According to a Bloomberg report, the pharmaceutical company expects to ship 20 million doses in the U.S. by the end of this year.

Both vaccines stem from mRNA T-cell immune response technology, a relatively new approach never previously used before for disease immunity. Both were developed with direct funding from the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed initiative. These two candidate vaccines have reportedly mild or moderate side effects, mostly pain at the injection site, fatigue and aching muscles and joints.


FAA Confirms Initial Air Shipments of Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine

Multiple reports indicate that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced that the first “mass air shipment” of a coronavirus vaccine began on Friday of last week, with charter flights transporting the Pfizer vaccine from a manufacturing facility in Belgium.

The vaccine is being pre-positioned at designated U.S. distribution sites to await emergency clearance from the FDA. Pfizer has two plants currently producing the vaccine. In addition to Belgium, there is a plant near Kalamazoo Michigan. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that charter flights involving United Airlines were transporting the vaccine.

As noted in our previous update of this series, the Pfizer vaccine must be transported and stored at super cold temperatures of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Special suitcase sized containers packed with upwards of 20 pounds of dry ice have been designed for transportation as our special aircraft shipping containers designed to fit in cargo aircraft. Since dry ice is classified as hazardous in air travel, the FAA has been working with manufacturers, air cargo operators and airport officials on guidance related to handling, transporting and on the ground storage.

Bloomberg separately reported that Germany based Lufthansa AG is preparing a fleet of 15 Boeing 777 and MD-11 air freighters for transport of the vaccines once approved. The CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) indicated to Bloomberg: “This will be the largest and most complex logistical exercise ever.”

Reportedly there are 2,000 dedicated air freight aircraft in use globally transporting half of all products transported by air. The remaining air transit needs are accommodated by filling the baggage holds of the globe’s 22,000 commercial jetliners. The capacity issue was challenged with so many international commercial routes suspended. According to the report, airlines have since converted upwards of 2,500 former commercial aircraft into cargo-only aircraft configurations.

The most significant challenge remains the transport, handling and storage of the Pfizer vaccine from designated distribution centers to more rural areas were extreme refrigeration infrastructure is lacking.


UPS to Accelerate Dry Ice Production

Bloomberg and other publications report that United Parcel Service (UPS) has set-up its own dry ice production and plans to provide additional portable super cold freezers to its healthcare customers.

The carrier can reportedly produce upwards of 1,200 pounds (540 kilograms) of dry ice per hour near its Worldport air hub facility near Louisville Kentucky. UPS will reportedly source additional dry ice needs from third-party producers located near its air cargo hubs in Dallas, Texas and Ontario, California. The carrier is further offering to deliver and install smaller freezers made by producer Stirling Ultracold for healthcare providers that do not have permanent facilities.


Amazon Announces Online Digital Pharmacy Services

Last week online retail platform provider formally unveiled the provider’s largest effort in providing prescription drugs via an integrated digital pharmacy services model.

The termed Amazon Pharmacy service will allow Amazon Prime members the ability to order prescription drugs utilizing their existing health insurance plans. Amazon Prime members who elect not to utilize their health insurance will reportedly have access to discounts on generic and branded drugs via Amazon’s site to upwards of 50,000 pharmacies.

This moves comes two years after the acquisition of online pharmacy Pill Pack. Previously Amazon shoppers were re-directed to PillPack’s web site. According to a published Bloomberg report, the discount moves are: “a clear play for people who pay for their medications with cash, whether they are uninsured or looking to save money.” Amazon will reportedly display both the price when using insurance and the price without.


Amazon Continues Global Hiring Spree

While on the topic of Amazon, The New York Times reported late last week (Paid subscription or metered view) that the online retail platform provider has added in excess of 427,000 workers since the pandemic began, bringing its total workforce to more than 1.2 million workers.

This hiring spree which spans from January to October this year involves new positions within the provider’s corporate workforce and in the hundreds of customer distribution centers across the U.S. and globally where needs have collectively boomed as a result of the ongoing pandemic. The report points out that the scale of hiring is even larger because the numbers do not include the 100,000 temporary workers recruited for the holiday surge period or the upwards of an estimated 500,00 parcel delivery drivers who work for contractors  to Amazon Prime delivery services.

As Supply Chain Matters and other publications and now the Times have pointed out, when the virus initially impacted the U.S. in March, online shopping growth condensed years of planned expansion into a few months.

The Times report concludes that the online provider’s employee growth “is unrivaled in the history of corporate America.” Further noted: “at this pace, it on track to surpass Walmart within two years to become the world’s largest private employer.”

The report concludes that while global lawmakers and regulators increasingly sound the alarm over Amazon’s increased physical and employment dominance, at the current pace of ongoing expansion and hiring provides increased political leverage and influence.


This concludes our November 30, 2020 COVID-19 Industry Supply Chain News Capsule.

As the news cycle warrants we will continue such updates initially on a bi-weekly cycle.


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