McKesson Austria wholesaler, Herba Chemosan, has been contributing to the COVID-19 vaccination effort in Austria by delivering vaccines (Biontech/Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) to government-determined locations (e.g. retirement homes, vaccination centres, pharmacies or doctors). So far (May 2021), the teams have distributed more than 1.7 million vaccines through their sophisticated logistics network which has been adapted specifically for this purpose.
Herba Chemosan (Herba) delivers pharmaceutical products to more than 90% of Austrian pharmacies, seven days a week, from seven distribution centres. The company is the largest pharmaceutical wholesaler and service provider in Austria accounting for roughly 50% of the market. It is this experience and expertise, especially in managing cold chain pharmaceutical logistics and ‘last mile’ distribution, that made Herba and other full line wholesalers a natural choice when it came to managing the roll out of vaccines.
The McKesson Austria business had invested in eleven "Superfreezers" to cool these critical medicines, undertaken modifications to the vehicle fleet and, due to the sensitive nature of its cargo, purchased new surveillance cameras.
The first COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Austria at the Herba Vienna-Simmering warehouse on December 26th, 2020 and were immediately divided and transferred to another 16 locations. Government-determined locations order the number they require and this order then goes to one of the members of the Austrian Association of Full Line Wholesalers (PHAGO), including Herba Chemosan, for delivery to the appointed destination.
When the order is received by Herba, they coordinate the exact delivery date with the destination and deliver the vaccine in passive cool boxes and in protective secondary packaging at 2 to 8 degrees as well as the corresponding vaccination accessories and documentation. When the delivery is to a pharmacy, the Herba team agrees the collection / delivery of the vaccines with the doctor and in the meantime stores them in the refrigerator at 2 to 8 degrees. The neutral and qualified passive cool box ITB (vaccine transport box) is then used to transport the vaccine from the pharmacy to the doctor.
Gentle vaccine handling
Since the vaccines are sensitive products, special protective measures have had to be taken: The specially developed secondary packaging ensures that the vaccines are transported upright and safe from vibration, while the ITB with the cold packs ensures that the cold chain is maintained. The ice packs must be pre-cooled by the pharmacy at minus 10 degrees for 36 hours so that the cold chain is secured for transportation from the pharmacy to the doctor (with a maximum transport time of five hours). All handling of the four vaccines, the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Moderna vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine takes place between 2 and 8 degrees, but the challenge in the early phase was the shelf life of the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine of just 120 hours from the start of the thawing process (though the recommendation from the EMA regarding unopened vials changed in May 2021). This required careful planning of delivery routes so that no doses were spoiled and wasted. The AstraZeneca vaccine, on the other hand, has a shelf life of around six months.
Herba employees are highly motivated by their essential role in this most important of tasks. And thanks to them, Austrians are being vaccinated against COVID-19.