A COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan released by HHS lays substantial responsibility onto states. But there are additional steps that vaccine manufacturers, distributors and others could take to help ensure just-in-time delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, according to a new report from HRI.
The three “key components” of the HHS distribution plan unveiled on Sept. 16 include partnerships with state, local and tribal health departments to allocate and distribute vaccines, a centralized distributor with potential backup distributors for additional storage and handling, and a web-based vaccine tracking system.
Jurisdictions will coordinate with federal facilities in their respective areas as well as with national supply chain partners. The localized plans will also need to include the vaccination of critical workforces and outreach to help ensure vaccination of underserved, high-risk and prioritized populations.
HHS has already announced a centralized distributor for the vaccine, which will deliver “a specific amount of vaccines to designated locations,” including vaccination sites, public health department sites or national retail pharmacies, the agency said in the plan.
The agency will use its Vaccine Tracking System (VTrckS), which integrates “the entire publicly funded vaccine supply chain from purchasing and ordering through distribution to participating state, local, and territorial health departments and healthcare providers.” The VTrckS is expected to include a feature to help direct consumers to a vaccination site.
The vaccination sites would vary depending on the amount of vaccine available and the prioritization stage, with more limited sites expected early on.
The goal of the plan, according to HHS, is to “leave the US government and commercial infrastructure better able to respond to pandemics and public health crises in the future.”
As HHS begins to flesh out its distribution program for COVID-19 vaccines, HRI has identified several steps that manufacturers and distributors can take to help enable on-time delivery of vaccines while addressing shifting consumer preferences for site of care.
In its plan, HHS notes that some of the vaccines could require ultra-low storage temperatures down to -80 degrees Celsius, which could limit their availability and the distribution network.
HRI has identified cell and gene therapy centers that already handle therapeutics at these ultra-low temperatures as well as several clinical trial sites of the COVID-19 vaccines that require this low storage temperature in at least 41 states. These networks could serve as a skeleton from which to build a specialized COVID-19 distribution center.
Additionally, HRI found that as the funnel of prioritized individuals widens, vaccination may not be a one-size-fits-all model and consumer preferences could become a major factor to ensure vaccine uptake and minimize concerns over vaccine hesitancy or pandemic fatigue.
HRI’s consumer research over the past several years has shown that different consumers have different preferences for the site of care based on multiple factors, including medical condition, demographics and socioeconomics.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift in consumer preferences for their site of care, and social distancing requirements along with other infection control measures could translate into people seeking new venues for seasonal vaccinations.
Worksite vaccination clinics could also be a venue. According to HRI’s recent executive survey, 37% of provider executives and 27% of pharmaceutical executives said they were establishing clinics on or near worksites.
HHS has proposed a tracking system and HRI found that an advanced analytics approach that includes an integrated database may provide additional value to help predict demand surges, adherence to booster shots and other important factors.
Some drug and device companies have deployed analytics to improve commercial performance. With COVID-19 vaccines, pharmaceutical and life sciences manufacturers, distributors and healthcare providers can use tools that forecast vaccine demand to the ZIP code level.
These tools could integrate health, socioeconomic and demographic information to understand who is most likely to benefit from a vaccine based on their current health profile. They can also allow distributors to manage distribution in a more dynamic way to follow the demand.