Vaccine supply chains are complex at the best of times. As such, the COVID-19 vaccination effort will come to be defined by the successes and failures of supply and cold chain logistics. These processes will also cast a light on the challenges faced in the manufacture, delivery, and distribution of many other vaccines going forward.
Cold chain vaccine processes depend on constant refrigeration at sometimes extremely low temperatures to:
- maintain the viability of vaccines
- prevent wastage
THE IMPORTANCE OF COLD CHAIN VACCINE PROCESSES
A Matter of Life and Death
After manufacture, vaccines need to be transported to (and ultimately stored in) a network of healthcare programmes, clinics, hospitals, and healthcare centres around the world. This entails a network of cold rooms, fridges and refrigerated logistics, cold boxes, and carriers. In the pandemic context, the importance of this is cast in stark relief. With COVID-19 and may diseases, time is of the essence and bottlenecks in the supply chain can have dire repercussions for whole countries and communities. According to PATH, from factory to healthcare outlet, it takes an average of four to six months. The COVID-19 vaccine is on a compressed timeline – which, in turn, emphasises the challenges of the cold chain and meeting storage specifications.
The Nature of Vaccines
Most vaccines are made from perishable components, with ingredients that degrade at room temperature. According to the European Pharmaceutical Review, the Pfizer and BioNTechCOVID-19 vaccine needs to be stored at -70°C (ultra-cold chain), but can survive at temperatures of 2° to 8°C for a period of five days. Other variants require higher temperatures, but a careful system of controlled processes will be required to maximise the effectiveness of the distribution of the COVID-19 and other vaccines.
THE CHALLENGES OF COLD CHAIN VACCINE PROCESSES
The Inadequacy of Existing Vaccine Supply Chains
The WHO’s Decade of Vaccines saw relatively large volumes of vaccines delivered and administered in many different countries around the world. This brought the shortcomings of the global supply chain to the fore across storage, logistics, and personnel. The result was bottlenecks, unnecessary wastage, and deaths. Add the urgency of the pandemic and these inadequacies stand to be emphasised.
On top of this, many global nations aren’t equipped for a roll-out of vaccines on this scale. The situation is rendered difficult by remoteness, economics and socio-economic processes, as well as healthcare infrastructure. In distributing vaccines to everyone, the solutions to the cold chain vaccine process needs to be adaptable to a range of factors.
It Requires High-Level Co-Ordination
Personnel working across all nodes of the supply chain (sometimes in different locations around the world) need to co-ordinate carefully to avoid issues around production schedules and deliveries, stock shortages, unfulfilled demand, bottlenecks, vaccination accessories, and so on. This demands the creation of optimal processes, full transparency.
It Works in Tandem with the Distribution of Other Vaccines
The roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine will place inevitable strain on the distribution of other very important vaccines. This means the supply chain of the COVID vaccine is going to have to be carefully adapted. It will need to work in tandem with the delivery and administration of other important vaccines to avoid disruptions.
Open and Closed Vial Wastage
When vaccine containers are damaged, exposed to undesirable temperatures, this is called closed vial wastage. Open vial wastage happens when a vaccine is opened and the balance of the doses aren’t used timeously or stored correctly. All forms of wastage have a knock-on effect, putting pressure on nodes all along the supply chain.
THE SMART APPROACH TO COLD CHAIN VACCINE PROCESSES
Widespread vaccine supply chain solutions need to be quickly and easily deployed, scalable, and reliable to address the main challenges mentioned above. Like so many other sectors, the data collected by smart technologies could very well hold the answer. It can be used to guide processes for manufacture, transportation, equipment management, personnel management, location information, and general processes in the vaccine supply chain.
Real-Time Data Insights
Using a system of IoT tags, sensors, and gateways, smart technologies provide real-time cloud-based reporting. This system has the ability to report on a range of metrics including location, temperature, shock, movement, and so on. It also sends alerts on undesirable fluctuations, empowering reaction and saving wasted time and resources. This means the integrity of every dose can be assessed remotely at all stages.
Exceptional Record-Keeping Capabilities
Through a system of automatic, cloud-based record-keeping, a global network of personnel are given unique powers of traceability. This lowers the demand for manual processes, allowing staff to be positioned as needed throughout the supply chain.
Streamlined Processes Through Data Insights
Current and historical data insights allow for enhanced management abilities. This means bottlenecks, delays, and hindrances in the supply chain can be averted or managed. It also allows processes to be adapted to realities for adjusted outcomes.
GET SMARTER COLD CHAIN VACCINE PROCESSES WITH SMARTER TECHNOLOGIES
Smarter Technologies provides leading cold chain logistics solutions to an extensive range of industries. Using a system of tags, sensors, and pressure pads, data is connected to a remote dashboard over the zero-trust Orion Data Network. In maintaining transport and storage temperatures to a granular overview of the whole supply chain, this is the simplest way to be smarter around cold chain vaccine processes.