Oct 27, 2020

The role of plastics in healthcare

Supply Chain
Leila Hawkins
3 min
The role of plastics in healthcare
Why is plastic so vital in the healthcare sector, and can it be sustainable...

INEOS Styrolution supplies plastic resin to the healthcare sector, including areas like labware, surgical devices, medical packaging and mobile and digital health. 

Specific to COVID-19, their resins are being used in a wide range of devices like testing kits, ventilators, inhalers, and PPE such as face shields and sneeze guards. This meant that from the very beginning of the pandemic it was crucial to ensure that their supply chains remained intact so they could continue providing these vital supplies. 

"This was quite a challenge considering that most countries around the world were facing some type of quarantine or travel restrictions at varying points in 2020" explains Alexander Silvestre, their Global Healthcare Director. 

"Fortunately, through close collaboration with our customers, supporting logistics providers, and internal supply chain teams, we have been able to ensure that no medical Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) experienced a shortage of supply from our company in any part of the world."

It's fair to say plastics, the single-use kind in particular, are not thriving in the popularity stakes at the moment , even if the so-called war on plastic has been derailed by the pandemic. As a historically common raw material in the manufacture of medical devices and medical packaging, why is it so important to the healthcare sector? 

 "When selecting a raw material, medical device designers need to answer a number of questions" Silvestre says. "For example, does the material possess appropriate physical properties such as impact performance or heat resistance? Does it meet the aesthetic requirements of the finished part? Lastly, but most importantly, can it be safely used in the end application where it will not create any adverse effects when exposed to various drugs or fluids?"

"From blood analysis kits and petri dishes to diagnostic equipment housings and syringe bodies, plastics have successfully demonstrated their ability to meet desired physical properties and local compliance needs."

Silvestre says that most leading medical OEMs have developed sustainability strategies and goals that focus on sourcing sustainable materials while ensuring products brought to market are safe for use. "Depending on the resin, there are a number of initiatives focused on the use of recycle streams, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, an or implementing life cycle analyses" he says. 

INEOS themselves have announced a number of internal initiatives as well as 3rd party partnerships to develop sustainable product solutions. These include advanced recycling technologies that can convert polystyrene waste back into its base styrene material, so that it can be for further medical use. 

In June this year they published the initial results of their LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) studies regarding the advanced recycling of polystyrene (PS). To do this, INEOS worked with several universities and 3rd party agencies, and found that the footprint of the material produced via advanced recycling is less than that produced from traditional fossil fuels.  

Additionally within the EMEA region they are replacing part of their fossil-based raw material with a bio-based material. This is being produced using internationally accepted certification schemes and has been audited by a third-party provider. 

"The common use of plastics within the healthcare sector consistently demonstrates its high quality and valuable attributes to patient care" Silvestre adds. 

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Apr 30, 2021

The challenges to vaccine distribution affecting everyone

Jonathan Colehower
5 min
The challenges to vaccine distribution affecting everyone
Jonathan Colehower, CEO at CargoChain, describes the COVID-19 vaccine distribution challenges impacting every country, organisation and individual...

While it is comforting to know that vaccines against COVID-19 are showing remarkable efficacy, the world still faces intractable challenges with vaccine distribution. Specifically, the sheer number of vaccines required and the complexity of global supply chains are sure to present problems we have neither experienced nor even imagined. 

Current projections estimate that we could need 12-15 billion doses of vaccine, but the largest vaccine manufacturers produce less than half this volume in a year. To understand the scale of the problem, imagine stacking one billion pennies – you would have a stack that is 950 miles high. Now, think of that times ten. This is a massive problem that one nation can’t solve alone.  

Production capacity 

Even if we have a vaccine – can we make enough? Based on current projections, Pfizer expects to produce up to 1.3 billion doses this year. Moderna is working to expand its capacity to one billion units this year. Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, is likely to produce 60% of the 3 billion doses committed by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi. This leaves us about 7 billion doses short. 

Expanding vaccine production for most regions in the world is complicated and time-consuming. Unlike many traditional manufacturing operations that can expand relatively quickly and with limited regulation, pharmaceutical production must meet current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) guidelines. So, not only does it take time to transition from R&D to commercial manufacturing, but it could also take an additional six months to achieve CGMP certification. 

The problem becomes even more complex when considering the co-products required. Glass vials and syringes are just two of the most essential co-products needed to produce a vaccine. Last year, before COVID-19, global demand for glass vials was 12 billion. Even if it is safe to dispense ten doses per vial, there is certain to be significant pressure on world supply of the materials needed to package and distribute a vaccine.

It is imperative drug manufacturers and their raw material suppliers have clear visibility of production plans and raw material availability if there is any hope of optimizing scarce resources and maximising production yield.

Distribution requirements

It is widely known by now that temperature is a critical factor for the COVID-19 vaccine. Even the regions with the most developed logistics infrastructures and resources needed to support a cold-chain network are sure to struggle with distribution.

For the United States alone, State and local health agencies have determined distribution costs will exceed $8.4 billion, including $3 billion for workforce recruitment and training; $1.2 billion for cold-chain, $1 billion vaccination sites and $0.5 billion IT upgrades.  

The complexity of the problem increases further when considering countries such as India that do not have cold-chain logistics networks that meet vaccine requirements. Despite India’s network of 28,000 cold-chain units, none are capable of transporting vaccines below -25°Celsius. While India’s Serum Institute has licensed to manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which can reportedly be stored in standard refrigerated environments, even a regular vaccine cold chain poses major challenges.

Furthermore, security will undoubtedly become a significant concern that global authorities must address with a coordinated solution. According to the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, theft and counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products rose nearly 70% over the past five years. As with any valuable and scarce product, counterfeits will emerge. Suppliers and producers are actively working on innovative approaches to limit black-market interference. Corning, for example, is equipping vials with black-light verification to curb counterfeiting.

Clearly, this is a global problem that will require an unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination.

Disconnected information systems 

While it is unreasonable to expect every country around the world will suddenly adopt a standard technology that would provide immediate, accurate and available information for everyone, it is not unreasonable to think that we can align on a standard taxonomy that can serve as a Rosetta Stone for collaboration. 

A shared view of the situation (inventory, raw materials, delivery, defects) will provide every nation with the necessary information to make life-saving decisions, such as resource pooling, stock allocations and population coverage.

By allowing one central authority, such as the World Health Organization, to organize and align global leaders to a single collaboration standard, such as GS1, and a standard sharing protocol, such as DSCSA, then every supply chain participant will have the ability to predict, plan and execute in a way that maximises global health.

Political influence and social equality 

As if we don’t have enough stress and churn in today’s geopolitical environment, we must now include the challenge of “vaccine nationalism.” While this might not appear to be a supply chain problem, per se, it is a critical challenge that will hinge on supply chain capabilities.

In response to the critical supply issues the world experienced with SARS-CoV-2, the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) formed Covax: a coalition dedicated to equitable distribution of 2 billion doses of approved vaccines to its 172 member countries. Covax is currently facilitating a purchasing pool and has made commitments to buy massive quantities of approved vaccines when they become available.  

However, several political powerhouse countries, such as the United States and Russia, are not participating. Instead, they are striking bilateral deals with drug manufacturers – essentially, competing with the rest of the world to secure a national supply. Allocating scarce resources is never easy, but when availability could mean the difference between life and death, it becomes almost impossible.

Global production, distribution and social equality present dependent yet conflicting realities that will demand global supply chains provide complete transparency and an immutable chain of custody imperative to vaccine distribution. 

The technology is available today – we just need to use it. We have the ability to track every batch, pallet, box, vile and dose along the supply chain. We have the ability to know with absolute certainty that the vaccine is approved, where and when it was manufactured, how it was handled and whether it was compromised at any point in the supply chain. Modern blockchain technologies should be applied so that every nation, institution, regulator, doctor and patient can have confidence in knowing that they are making an impact in eradicating COVID-19.

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