Editor’s note: This is the first of two columns that will examine the impact of the pandemic on the sterilization sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted and altered countless industries across the United States. Many are still regaining their footing as they continue to adapt.
Representatives from the Sterilization Packaging Manufacturers Council’s (SPMC) member companies recently sat down to talk about the changes they’ve experienced and where they see the sterile flexible packaging industry heading.
Certainty During Uncertainty
“When COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in March of 2020, there were so many unknowns,” explains Don Alip, director of product excellence, health care, at Amcor Flexibles. “We weren’t sure how to prevent the spread, how to care for those stricken with COVID, or even how to mobilize the right assets to diagnose and treat patients, let alone develop a vaccine.”
Uncertainty consumed the country as it entered a lock-down, shuttering industries from coast-to-coast. The manufacture of medical sterilization packaging was considered essential during that time as the industry responded to rapidly changing needs. Not only was sterilization pack-aging necessary for the protection of diagnostic tests, drug delivery devices (such as IV solutions and infusion sets), syringes, catheters, and intubation tubes, but it was also essential for the personal protective equipment (PPE) used by frontline medical workers.
“While most of us in the sterilization packaging market have always commanded a strong understanding of how critical our products are to patient safety, the onset of the first true pandemic in our lifetimes amplified the real impact of what we do,” says Dwane Hahn, chief strategy officer and vice president of sales and marketing at PAXXUS, Inc.
Alip concurs. “Sterile packaging manufacturers offer both tried-and-true packaging solutions and next-gen innovations,” he explains. “During that period of uncertainty, I was certain that sterilization packaging would deliver the right solutions for medical device manufacturers.”
Protecting Against COVID-19
Early on, the pandemic changed the way medical care was administered. In-person medical office visits were halted, nonessential surgeries and other medical procedures were temporarily postponed, and mobile COVID-19 testing sites mushroomed.
For John Pearce, president of SteriPax, the gravity of the pandemic was paramount. “Providing any required technical support and expedited lead times for those medical device companies that were supporting the needs of COVID-19 patients was, and continues to be, our top priority,” he says.
Kathleen Daly Mascolo, vice president of Beacon Converters, Inc., notes that everyone was dealing with a highly transmissible airborne contagion, and it wasn’t known how long the virus could survive on surfaces and skin. “Our packaging was protecting patients, first responders, doctors, nurses, and the laboratory workers who were handling the tests for this disease.”
Prepared for the Challenge
Thankfully, decades of advancements in the sterilized flexible packaging industry were being applied to ensure the packaging could undergo rigorous validation and complex sterilization processes that would hold up throughout the distribution process until point-of-use.
“Everything we’d engineered prepared us for this moment,” says Amy Stewart, product development manager at Printpack Medical. In fact, innovation was allowing these companies to quickly design and implement new sterile packaging solutions that were needed in the field.
“The pandemic gave rise to conversations about the reprioritization of design requirements. The exhaustive pressures on our frontline workers who serve patients in health care settings or lab testing facilities elevated the need to create a priority parity between packaging robustness and end users’ design preferences,” Stewart explains. “We saw an increase in customer activity to take the journey of front-end innovation for the end users’ experience and optimizing their delivery effectiveness.”
As flexible sterilization packaging converters responded to their customers’ packaging design needs, they were also protecting their own workforce and the families they supported from the virus. It was a time of heightened stress and concern as they prioritized the well-being of their employees, while simultaneously protecting those who were on the front lines and the patients receiving care.
It’s only now that sterilization packaging companies can properly reflect and comprehend the pivotal role that they played in battling the pandemic.
Lourdes Pogue is a marketing consultant at C5 Communications in Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at Lourdes@C5CI.com.