The Supply Chain Matters blog features our summary capsule of developments directly relative to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for multi-industry supply chains. We provide this feature to assist our readers in their efforts to keep updated on noteworthy developments.

As we publish this update on February 22, 2021, a tragic milestone occurred across the United States, specifically that the death toll directly attributed to the virus has now surpassed 500,000 victims. That is more perished than occurred in World Wars One and Two and the Vietnam War combined.

COVID-19 Industry Supply Chain News

Developments included in this update include:

COVID-19 Coronavirus Global Wide Status

Pfizer Vaccine Reportedly Can Now Be Stored in Normal Freezers

Moderna Indicates Short Term Supply Glitches

Astra Zeneca COVID19 Vaccine Production Yield Challenges Threaten EU Plans

U.S. Trucking, Port and Logistics Industries Seek Priority to Vaccine Access


Global Deaths Attributed to COVID-19 Surpass 2.5 Million

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, since the first data was recorded by Johns Hopkins early in 2020, global wide COVID-19 infections have now surpassed 111.6 million positive cases. The top five countries for infection rates remain essentially the same:

United States– Over 28.1 million cases

India– Over 11 million cases

Brazil– Over 10.2 million cases

United Kingdom– Over 4.1 million cases

Russia– Over 4.1 million cases

The top five countries with reported deaths remain essentially the same as well:

United States– Over 500,000

Brazil– Over 246,000

Mexico– Over 180,000

India– Over 156,000

United Kingdom– Over 121,000

The good news is that the incidents of daily cases has been noticeably trending downward during since the start of 2021. This is being attributed both to added lockdown measures as well as the appearance and administration of vaccine doses across specific counties. Israel now leads the world in the amount of population receiving the COVID-19 vaccinations, followed by the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

According to the Economist, as of February 10th there were at least nine vaccines authorized for use in one or more countries. The Pfizer/BioNTech, the first introduced, vaccine has been reportedly authorized within 61 countries.

According to the published New York Times Vaccine Tracker, more than 208 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, equal to 2.7 doses for every 100 people. Further noted is that there is already a stark gap between vaccination programs in different countries, with many yet to report a single dose.

Across the United States, infections rates and hospitalizations have come down significantly during the past few weeks with the new Biden Administration placing a more centralized federal level planning and logistics approach to vaccine supplies and administration. The latest data related to vaccine administration across the U.S. indicates over 63 million doses administered to over 18.9 million people, or 5.8 percent of the population.

What continues to concern global-wide health officials as well as the World Health Organization is the appearance of new virus strains that are roving to be more infectious and sometimes deadly from the original strains that appeared last year. This includes noted Brazil and South Africa variants. Vaccine producers continue to study these variants to determine if vaccine variants and/or additional jabs will be required to protect populations from such strains.


Pfizer Vaccine Reportedly Can Now Be Stored in Normal Freezers

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech can now be stored in ordinary freezers instead of the previously mandated ultra-cold freezers. The companies are now seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change the vaccine storage requirements.

The revised requirement has rather positive implications for vaccine logistics and distribution with the opportunity for allowing for more vaccine administration sites that can store the vaccine in a common freezer, making it much easier for rural areas or underdeveloped nations to store and administer this vaccine.

A further development was a result from a recent peer-reviewed completed study conducted across Israel that now indicates that a single shot of the Pfizer vaccine is reportedly 85 percent effective in preventing symptomatic disease 15 to 28 days after being administered. The implication is one that may prompt government health agencies to delay scheduling of a second shot and instead utilize available vaccine supply to administer more people with a single dose. This is the current approach being utilized by the United Kingdom in vaccine administration. Parts of Canada and other countries in Europe are also pursuing such a strategy. Previously, certain countries were setting aside vaccine inventory to assure supply for a patient’s second dose.  With this new data on efficacy, countries can presumably schedule second doses based on inbound inventory supply from the manufacturer, allowing a faster initial vaccination pace.


Moderna Indicates Short Term Supply Glitches

Reuters reported last week that vaccine developer Moderna indicated that some of its COVID-19 vaccine doses ordered by the U.S. government have lagged because of “short-term delays” in the final stages of production at its fill and finish contractor Catalent, Inc. The delays are expected to be resolved and reportedly will not impact monthly delivery targets.

Catalent indicated in a statement to Reuters that it is meeting all its vaccine production commitments including that of Moderna.

This vaccine maker is aiming to deliver 300 million doses by the end of July, from the original target of September. The company reportedly has plans to produce an average of 30 to 35 million doses per month in February and March, ramping to a level of 40 to 50 million doses every month from April to July.

The Biden Administration’s declared goal to deliver 100 million doses in the first 100 days prompted the acceleration of vaccine supplies from both Moderna and Pfizer. The President further authorized additional provisions of the Defense Production Act to prioritize the production and supply of vaccine raw materials and administration needs. The CEO of Moderna indicated to The Wall Street Journal in mid-January that the industry was on track to deliver to the President’s goal. He also cautioned that supply chain glitches can occur in delivery of raw materials and in last-mile distribution hiccups are issues beyond the maker’s control.


Astra Zeneca COVID19 Vaccine Production Yield Challenges Threaten EU Plans

COVID-19 vaccine developers Astra Zeneca and Oxford University reportedly are challenged to deliver vaccine supply commitments to the European Union over the coming months.

The Wall Street Journal and Reuters, citing people familiar with the matter reported that in a worst-case scenario, this vaccine maker may only be able to provide upwards of 30 million doses or the roughly 50 million doses ordered by EU countries. Reportedly the root cause is a production facility of a contract manufacturer located in Belgium that has experienced production yield shortfalls on the amount of vaccine produced from base materials. Vaccine yields can often vary depending on seeding steps utilized to grow the cells needed to produce the virus. The vaccine maker reportedly has found different rates of vaccine yields among its various contract manufacturers and has been working to address such shortfalls as they are identified.

The news of the shortfall prompted European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to reportedly grill Astra Zeneca’s CEO. Pfizer added to consternation with an indication that that company would have an initial supply shortfall due to an issue at its Belgium production facility. All of this led to a warning by the EU against engaging in “vaccine nationalism which Supply Chain Matters commented on in a late January update.

Astra Zeneca agreed to produce 3 billion doses during 2021 and not profit from this scope during the pandemic. Such a promise brings its own set of reputational risks. The vaccine was first approved for emergency use by the United Kingdom in late December and that country agreed to purchase hundreds of millions of doses, including the establishment of a UK based supply chain. During this initial phase, other EU based facilities assisted in supplying initial needs. Since that time, EU based facilities are reportedly focused on EU vaccine supply commitments.

As Supply Chain Matters has noted in prior commentaries, producing a biologics for laboratory testing of patient trials is quite different than producing for larger volumes. Keep in mind that the Astra Zeneca vaccine is a different technology than the mRNA vaccine types developed by both Moderna and Pfizer.

The report in late January raised alarms across various EU nations which are clamoring to accelerate the availability of multiple vaccines.


U.S. Trucking, Port and Logistics Industries Seek Priority to Vaccine Access

The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend that freight operators and transportation groups are lobbying the U.S. federal government to provide these workforces easier and more timely access to COVID-19 vaccines.

This is precipitating yet a further debate as to whether other essential workers such as teachers or other deemed essential workers should be prioritized among various current U.S. state’s vaccination plans.

The issue is compounded by the needs to keep goods moving to essential markets and that because truck drivers are constantly on the road, state administered plans logistically cannot meet such needs.  Instead, industry groups are seeking a federal plan that could administer vaccines at local truck stops or large rest areas located among various interstate highways. In a letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The American Trucking Association called for prioritization of the nation’s truck drivers citing them as “the linchpin of our nation’s entire frontline response.”

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are currently challenged by long waiting lines of arriving container ships anchored off the coast Part of this delay is attributed to large infection rates among dockworkers.  Reportedly upwards of 800 dock workers at the Port of Long Beach received vaccinations on February 12 at a city sponsored clinic with a further 2,200 appointments scheduled in the following days.

The publication further indicated that FedEx and UPS are actively working with state health agencies to prioritize delivery workers administration of vaccines. The report also cites “plenty of skepticism among transportation workers” about the vaccines and seeking a jab.

In many U.S. states, other deemed essential workers such as food and grocery employees still await their turn as priority levels are administered currently to people 65 years of age or older.

Such dilemmas will continue and that is why consistent inbound supplies of vaccines are so essential. Under that argument, following the trail of the supply network would lead to transport workers as the initial priority.


This concludes the February 22, 2021 Edition of our Supply Chain Matters COVID-19 Supply Chain Disruption News Capsule.

As news cycles warrant, we will either feature specific major developments or this capsule format.

It goes without stating that the return to some forms of normalcy among multi-industry product demand and supply networks has an obvious dependency of vaccine supply and distribution networks.


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