As countries scale up their Covid-19 vaccination efforts, the challenges associated with vaccine distribution have come to the fore. Some of these challenges include temperature excursions, equipment failure, and time delays. Some regions struggle to meet their vaccine demands, while others swim in inoculations due to vaccine hesitancy and low acceptance.
What’s more, recent industry surveys show that as much as 30 percent of pharmaceuticals become spoiled or damaged before they reach hospitals and other points of administration. As for vaccine spoilage, WHO approximates that more than half of inoculations shipped globally are delivered in an unusable condition.
However you look at it, getting vaccines to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and wherever else they are needed isn’t an easy task. So, how are vaccines transported safely to administration centers across the globe?
Today, we will focus on the vaccine cold chain, a step-by-step refrigerated supply chain used by pharmaceutical distributors to get vaccines to their destinations.
Getting to Know Vaccine Cold Chain Monitoring
Vaccines need to be delivered to administration centers (e.g., hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices) found across many states, countries, territories, and continents. These centers have shifting needs, unique challenges, and differing demographics. More importantly, vaccines must be kept within certain temperature ranges prescribed by manufacturers and regulatory agencies like the FDA and CDC.
As is true of most medications, vaccines are susceptible to an array of environmental variables as they’re being transported. Without proper control measures in place, vaccines can be exposed to harmful conditions that can affect their safety and efficacy.
As a result, vaccine temperatures must be consistently measured, logged, and controlled to ensure they reach hospitals in a safe and effective state. The consequences of exposing vaccines to unacceptable conditions can be devastating. Not only are the lives of millions of people at risk, but vaccine makers and distributors are also bound to pay dearly in terms of financial and reputational losses.
Vaccine cold chain monitoring can help. Monitoring temperature across the cold chain — from production to delivery — ensures vaccine safety and improves operational efficiency for pharmaceutical distributors. Once set in motion, the cold supply chain of vaccines must remain unbroken and with as few hand-offs as possible from the loading dock to someone’s arm.
How Cold Chain Monitoring Facilitates the Safe Delivery of Vaccines
The cold chain is an uninterrupted refrigerated supply chain that is often used to ensure safe production, distribution, and storage of temperature-sensitive products like perishable food, vaccines, and medicines. The cold chain provides pharmaceutical companies with a temperature-assured environment to ensure that product integrity isn’t compromised during shipment.
The vaccine cold chain is mission-critical when getting inoculations from the manufacturing point to the hospitals. In this supply chain, vaccines are usually stored in thermostatic containers (much like cool boxes), allowing temperatures to be controlled and maintained within their prescribed range.
For superior management of the vaccine cold chain, three things must come into play:
– Vaccine temperature monitoring
Again, vaccines are fragile and must not be exposed to temperatures outside of the range prescribed by the manufacturer. The standard temperature range for vaccines is usually between 2°C and 8°C, but some vaccines (such as those based on mRNA technology) must be kept at ultra-low temperatures.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was the first to get full FDA approval for Covid-19, is supposed to be shipped in dry-ice-filled thermal containers at ultra-cold temperature conditions of between -60°C and -80°C.
Meanwhile, some varicella-based vaccines require frozen conditions during transportation/storage. The typical temperatures of this frozen environment range from -50°C to -15°C. Any inactivated vaccine is kept in a medical refrigerator at temperatures between 2°C and 8°C to ensure full efficacy once reconstituted or reactivated.
No matter the type and where the vaccine shipment is along the supply chain, its ambient temperature must not go out of range. Faulty shipping equipment and temperature fluctuations can break the cold chain and affect the quality of inoculations.
Thus, vaccine temperature monitoring devices like data loggers play a critical role. Data loggers and sensors placed strategically inside shipments can help monitor vaccine temperature and other variables like humidity.
These loggers are usually fitted with wireless technology, helping transmit temperature data to a server or the cloud, where it can be viewed, summarized, and analyzed in real-time. Vaccine distributors can easily and quickly detect temperature excursions and other cold chain anomalies in real-time by using smart analytics and other cloud-based software tools.
More crucially, the monitoring system can be set up to send out real-time alerts to a particular team, department, or personnel via text, automated phone calls, or email. Taking advantage of this capability, those in charge can respond almost immediately to excursions and, as a result, safeguard the vaccines and protect fragile assets.
– Proper vaccine handling/storage plans
Handling and storage plans should be deployed with temperature monitoring equipment to ensure optimal management and control of the vaccine cold chain. The plans should cover the mission-critical aspects like inventory management, vaccine handling, vaccine storage, delivery acceptance, and disposal of compromised products.
Every point in the vaccine supply chain must have backup and emergency plans for vaccine storage and handling. They should cater to all potential emergencies, including power failure, natural disasters, and even human error. The plans must be well-documented, intuitive, and easy to understand for all personnel involved so that they can be implemented easily and quickly.
– Well-established personnel education and training
When transporting vaccines to hospitals, all checks and balances must be maintained at all times. For this reason, personnel responsible for the vaccine cold chain must be sufficiently trained and educated. They must learn and keep up with all the procedures, techniques, technologies, and policies involved.
All staff members must clearly understand the vaccine monitoring strategy and its relationship to patient and vaccine safety. Ongoing education should be encouraged to help personnel keep up with advances and changes in best practices.