The Ins and Outs of Pharmaceutical Shipping


Over the last year, the pharmaceutical shipping business has become arguably more important than ever, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Rather than visiting a doctor or pharmacy, more people are using telemedicine and having their prescriptions mailed to them than ever before. This sharp increase in healthcare-related shipping (among other sharp increases within the supply chain) is a significant change for the national and global supply chain, which hasn’t previously handled this kind of volume.

The growth isn’t likely to stop anytime soon. According to a recent study from Research and Markets, the North American pharmaceutical industry is expected to grow by 7.1% between 2020 and 2025 (projections as of August 2020). Add to that the need for widespread distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, and it’s clear that the transportation industry will have a critical role to play—not just in the supply chain, but in peoples’ health and well-being.

The Right Procedures for Pharmaceutical Shipping

If your fleet has been trusted with pharmaceutical transportation, it’s important to know the ins and outs of your cargo. It’s not as simple as filling up your trailers with product and calling it a day; this cargo likely comes with specific conditions required for storage—conditions which often are not met. According to the World Health Organization, almost 20% of temperature-sensitive medicinal products are damaged during transport, and 25% of vaccines reach their destination in a degraded state due to breaks in the cold chain.

The Cold Chain

The cold chain refers to the process of transporting cold goods, and it includes all steps, like initial transportation from a facility, middle mile transferring via air and ground transportation, warehousing, and finally delivery.

The first thing you’ll want to know is the temperature at which the pharmaceuticals need to be transported; make sure that your trailer is set up to keep cargo at this temperature.

The manufacturer will likely provide instructions for transport, and it is imperative to know these inside and out, as well as any other regulations that may apply, which may include confidentiality agreements, required response times, and shipment tracking.

“Fleets should make sure they are up on regulations, the correct spec’ing of their equipment, and continual examination of the entire cold chain of the products they handle to ensure success,” says Rob Ulsh, Vice President of Dealer and International Sales at Great Dane.

“It is critical to design your piece of transportation equipment with the correct refrigerated or heater unit based on the product temperature need,” Ulsh adds. “You will need an insulated dry van to do any type of sensitive temperature transport. It can also be done in a refrigerated trailer or truck body, and most are done this way.”

As Ulsh notes, a reefer unit is particularly helpful if you need to keep cargo cold while transporting through a hot area, or vice versa.

Telematics can help with this, as many telematics offerings include temperature tracking for reefer units, including Great Dane’s FleetPulse (with Reefer Control by Coretex).

Other Risks to Pharmaceutical Transport

It is also especially important to keep these types of loads safe from potential theft.

The driver is a key component of keeping pharmaceutical cargo protected and kept at the correct temperature. It should be part of their routine to check the temperature of the goods continually, being on the lookout for any aberrations, as well as securing the trailer to prevent theft opportunities. The driver is also a crucial part of getting the shipments delivered on time, which will only become more important as the supply chain is continually strained.

Examples of equipment suitable for hauling pharmaceuticals include Great Dane’s iVan (insulated dry van trailer) and Everest (refrigerated trailer).

Everest refrigerated trailers are made for premium thermal performance. The exclusive PunctureGuard and ThermoGuard liners with Microban antimicrobial technology provide unmatched strength, thermal efficiency, and protection against bacterial growth, giving fleets a competitive advantage. The Everest is also wood-free, which removes the risks of moisture absorption, rot, and mildew that often plague traditional wood construction.

iVan units are not refrigerated, but feature the same exceptional insulation that Everest uses. iVans have the strength and durability of both the Everest and the Champion, with PunctureGuard or ThermoGuard available for extra protection.

Learn more about the Everest.