Science

In a French warehouse, logistics race to receive Pfizer vaccines

In an anonymous warehouse in the Paris suburbs, a precious cargo emerges from an icy haze: almost ten thousand vials of freshly delivered Pfizer vaccine.

Coming straight from the production plant in Belgium, the truck passed at dawn. The ten boxes he unloaded do not mismatch among the pallets and packaging piled up in the long hangar.

Their content is easy to guess: they were placed in front of three “super-freezers” displaying nearly -70 ° C.

Each package contains five “trays” – shaped like a “pizza box” – containing precisely 195 bottles no bigger than a phalanx.

No time to waste, you have to quickly extract the goods from their “dry ice” to store them immediately, without breaking the polar cold chain.

In the warehouse, the goods must be quickly extracted from their “dry ice” to store them immediately, without breaking the polar cold chain (AFP – JOEL SAGET)

But be careful not to shake them too much. “It is a very valuable medicine, we cannot afford to leave the freezer open for too long, let alone have a tray that breaks,” explains pharmacist Emilie Figueireido, responsible for the site’s logistics unit.

This morning, the count is almost there, with a “plateau” near. “Everything happens just in time from the supplier, there can be surprises like that”, sighs Renaud Cateland, director of the General Agency for Equipment in Health Products (Ageps), which receives and distributes all of the drugs and part of the medical devices of the Assistance publique-Hôpitaux de Paris (AP-HP, 39 hospitals in the Paris region).

This hub buys health products each year for 1.2 billion euros, with several thousand references distributed to 37 sites, day and night – weekends included – to respond to sometimes urgent orders from caregivers.

An oiled mechanism, which has had to deal for three months with the irregular flow of anti-Covid vaccines.

– “Ascending phase” –

In addition to the AP-HP, the platform now delivers to all hospitals, clinics and vaccination centers in Paris and its inner suburb of Hauts-de-Seine. So many new “customers” that had to be tamed in record time, to ensure that the right doses were delivered to the right places.

In the cold store, the bottles are repackaged in boxes of 10 or 20 filled with foam or polystyrene to avoid shocks (AFP - JOEL SAGET)

In the cold store, the bottles are repackaged in boxes of 10 or 20 filled with foam or polystyrene to avoid shocks (AFP – JOEL SAGET)

This is the stake of the “preparation”: taken out of the freezer, the “pizza boxes” are opened in a cold room, between 2 ° C and 8 ° C, and the 195 bottles are repackaged in boxes of 10 or 20. lined with foam or polystyrene to prevent impact.

On each lid, a yellow label indicates the date and time of thawing and the expiration date, five days later.

Outside, the conveyors are waiting: several vans are already parked in front of the building, which will soon take the long-awaited serum to its injection sites – and perhaps also, in passing, a package of a hundred syringes specially designed to recover the famous ” sixth dose “at the bottom of the bottle.

 (AFP - JOEL SAGET)

(AFP – JOEL SAGET)

The pace does not weaken, on the contrary. Ageps was receiving around 20,000 weekly doses at the start of the year, nearly 60,000 last week and 90,000 were expected this week.

“We are clearly on an ascending phase,” notes Laurent Havard, pharmacist in charge of the supply and distribution department.

With its three “super-freezers” and its two devices at a more conventional temperature (for Moderna vaccines), it ensures that it can store up to 240 “trays”. “We still have room,” he says.

What “to do three or four times more” confirms Mr. Cateland, on condition of not “stumbling on human resources”, which have followed so far thanks to “some occasional reinforcements”.

The test of truth arrives: in April, France must receive more than 12 million doses (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca), as many as in the first quarter.

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