Vaccines are one of the pharmaceutical industry’s most perishable products. The shelf-life of biologic agents, such as influenza vaccines, is relatively short even under ideal conditions – around six months.
Most of these life-saving agents are sensitive to temperature variations.
Any break in the “cold chain” could harm their potency and effectiveness in warding off disease. MedImmune – the global biologics research and development arm of pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca – operates its single cold-chain distribution facility near Louisville, Kentucky.
From there, it annually ships more than 15 million doses of FluMist,® the first nasal-spray flu vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Louisville distribution center is strategically located near major facilities for commercial shipping companies that deliver the vaccine to hospitals, clinics and retail pharmacies.
One of MedImmune’s major customers is the U.S. Department of Defense, which contracts with the company to provide the flu-shot alternative to American military personnel based around the world.
The distribution center stores the FluMist pallets in two FDA-validated freezer spaces, together totaling 27,000 square feet.
Inside each temperature-controlled freezer is space for 1,180 pallets. Each frozen space also contains automated storage-and-retrieval systems that include conveyors, lift tables and robotic cranes, which break down the pallets and cases.
A high-tech, pick-and-pack area is equipped with eight stations where orders are filled in various quantities for various customers.
A large percentage of orders are small parcels delivered in one or two days. They’re shipped in passively-cooled containers – essentially, ice chests containing frozen gel packs to maintain the cold chain until the products reach their destinations.