The first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to arrive in Israel by the weekend, containing a relatively small amount – 100,000 to 200,000 doses. Once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives temporary emergency approval for using the company’s vaccine, the logistics operation for sending it to Israel will begin.
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The first shipment is meant to serve as a trial to test the chain of supply. Pfizer is in charge of transporting the vaccine from the U.S. to logistic centers in Shoham and Kfar Sava in central Israel. There the vaccine will be picked up by Teva Pharmaceuticals’ distribution company S.L.A., which will deliver the doses throughout the country. Yossi Ofek, Teva’s general manager, said that the complexity of the process lies not just with the -70 degrees Celsius freezers required, but in the holistic approach to the entire chain, from loading the planes to distribution to the clinics administering the vaccine. “It’s like a military operation, and we practice throughout all stages of the process,” he said.
The vaccine kits leave the company’s U.S. warehouses in trucks carrying freezers. Each parcel contains five packages, each with 970 doses inside. A GPS device as well as a temperature gauge is attached to each parcel. These are monitored by the company to ensure that all the doses are kept under the required conditions during transit. The parcels are then put on Boeing 777 passenger jetliners that have been converted for carrying the vaccines and outfitted with special freezers using dry ice.
“When the packages arrive, we’ll replace Pfizer’s GPS devices with our own,” says Ofek. “The whole process and every parcel is under control, with its location and temperature constantly monitored to ensure that there is no unplanned movement.”
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The shelf life of the vaccine is five days from the time it’s taken out of a freezer, after which it needs to be kept at between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius. All doses that leave the logistics center must be administered within five days – otherwise they’re destroyed. This requires health maintenance organizations to set up a network of vaccination centers with a flexible, accessible and widespread distribution, without spreading out too widely. “That’s one of the complexities,” says Ofek. “We can’t lose any doses; it requires a well-oiled machine that also covers the second dose, given 21 days later.”