Call to arms: Packaging vaccines implore forethought

December 12, 2015

6 Min Read
Call to arms: Packaging vaccines implore forethought

Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News staff

By Gina Monari

In the area of vaccines, packaging is critical to securing the safety and stability of the product. High-maintenance facets of infectious diseases and the vaccines that prevent them demand forethought and fastidious effort from pharmaceutical companies, healthcare ad agencies, and physicians alike.

Although packaging in vaccines is very much about the logistics of shipping an extremely sensitive product in an appropriate way, the role of the advertising agency is to use their clients’ innovative packaging designs as a means to empower physicians and enable them to motivate their patients to take their medication on time and for the recommended duration. In the past, healthcare ad agencies and pharmaceutical clients have not thought about packaging in advance. Some healthcare advertising experts believe, however, that this is beginning to change and that billions of dollars could be saved if packaging was addressed up front as early as the drug-development process.

Adherence and administration

According to Gregory A. Thompson, M.D., AbelsonTaylor, pharmaceutical clients and their design teams are the packaging professionals. In all types of infectious diseases, however, adherence to a medication’s dosing regimen is crucial in order to achieve successful treatment. Since resistance is an immediate concern in the anti-infective arena, every effort to simplify the patient experience should be afforded to ensure a positive outcome, this includes special attention to patient-education components in packaging vaccines.

“Patient education is an essential tool that instills confidence to complete a treatment course, provides understanding of the importance of finishing or maintaining the medication, and teaches patients to be cognizant of side effects,” Dr. Thompson says.

Packaging clearly has to identify first what the product is, what is inside, and the mode of administration. For example if it is a pre-filled syringe a once-and-done, it is easy to use. According to Kurt Mueller, chief digital and science officer,Roska Healthcare Advertising, the clinician can basically pick it up, take it out of the box, uncap it, administer it, and throw it away.

“Branding that package showing the product and creating a simple administration guide to be inserted is a wonderful thing,” Mr. Mueller says. “I think you’re going to get better compliance, you’re going to get better connection to ‘this is easy, this is a good experience.’ With the brand adding that connection, it reinforces the fact that they’re doing a good thing and they’ve got the right product.”

This becomes more challenging with regard to combination vaccines. If the clinician or the administerer has to mix something, such as a powder that must be injected or a liquid, it becomes more cumbersome.

“In the R&D phase, if they can make that simpler upfront they can get a higher compliance rate, a better administration rate,” Mr. Mueller says. “So, I think the best results from the brand and the patient perspective are best met when that thinking is done in conjunction. I think it’s still disconnected right now.”

Dimensions of disarticulation

While ad agencies and their clients have not thought about this ahead of time in many cases in the past, this is beginning to shift. The industry as a whole is realizing this cannot be ignored and that it is a part of the whole experience. It has been a slow evolution to bring commercialization together with R&D and marketing. Often times, however, the method of administration will change as a product progresses through the lifecycle.

“Think about all of the expense that’s involved in changing how it’s administered, it’s billions of dollars,” Mr. Mueller says. “If that could be addressed up front, it’s much more efficient and it’s a consistent experience. You don’t have to reeducate nurses or physicians on how to administer the product.”

According to Brad Davidson, VP, management supervisor, EvoLogue, a CommonHealth agency, what happens now is very disarticulated with all the different areas of responsibility being specialized: shipping specializes in shipping, packaging specializes in packaging, and marketing specializes in marketing.

“One of the unintended consequences of that is people don’t think beyond that immediate need of ‘I just need to ship this thing’ as opposed to ‘what’s the experience of my customer receiving’,” Mr. Davidson says. “I think we’re trying to get away from that, but it’s hard because it’s a very efficient way of saving money. It’s a cost-reduction mechanism, possibly not a value-maximization mechanism. I wonder if they will start thinking that way. They should.”

Bulk concerns

Mr. Davidson believes that packaging in vaccines is more a retail and shipping issue — a logistical concern.

“Traditionally, you have this enormous shipper that shows up that looks like something out of a movie,” Mr. Davidson says. “There’s smoke pouring out, you’ve got dry ice, and you reach in and you have this miniscule package full of vaccine vials that you immediately put into a refrigerator. You’re left with this enormous amount of Styrofoam packaging and it really can build up in offices and people don’t know what to do with it.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides standard operating proceduresfor shipping, which includes receiving, storing, packing, and transportation vaccines. Whether vaccines are transported by hand-carrying or shipping to another site, the cold chain must be maintained. 

These packages are most often shipped to pediatricians, who are very aware of the affect of the environment on the well being of their patients, such as the environmental influences on asthma, autism, and attention deficit disorder.

“So, you’re kind of sending them a very large Styrofoam block that’s hard to recycle, hard to reuse, it’s hard to know what to do with it,” Mr. Davidson says.

One of EvoLogue’s clients reduced their packaging for all the right reasons by making it much smaller. The client was able to warm up the temperature at which they could ship the vaccines safely. That change in packaging was not just out of convenience, but out of brand responsibility.

“This is really part of a larger effort,” Mr. Davidson says. “It’s not just about the vaccine being safe, but the entire way in which you process and handle vaccines and the way that they occupy space in your office to be more user-friendly and more environmentally friendly.”

The packaging/shipping group came up with the new packaging and then EvoLogue was called in to tie that improvement in packaging to the brand. This is because from the physician standpoint, it was part of the brand experience. This had been out of control of the brand team before, however, so the client really wanted to tie it in and make it part of the brand experience.

“In retrospect what I realized was that if I was the physician buying this, my brand experience would begin with that package showing up on my doorstep and would end with me figuring out how to recycle or throw it away,” Mr. Davidson says. “Everything in the middle is the important part about treating your patients, but package management matters.”

Audits of overflowing sample closets in tiny offices speaks to the fact that pharmaceutical marketers need to be thinking of packaging as an integral part of the brand experience for physicians who are actually buying vaccines. It is about safe shipping, is a retail process, and physicians order in bulk.

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