How Cold Chains Can Be Optimized for the Delivery of a COVID-19 Vaccine
When will a COVID-19 vaccine be ready, and how will it be distributed? That’s the question on everyone’s mind. The time and expertise involved in developing and testing the vaccine is one thing, but the logistical challenges of successfully distributing it worldwide is another.
The industry is gearing up to immunize at least 70% of the global population, and the supply chain process for this gargantuan task is complex, requiring properly functioning storage/packaging, cold chain transit, shipping and storage solutions. Given the high number of transfers from the manufacturer to the end customer, that means any kind of logistics or cold transport problems could be disastrous.
Not only this, we’ve seen complex issues with proper vaccine storage and handling—both at rest and in motion—as a result of COVID-19, such as condition requirements, counterfeits, theft and shipment diversions.
This process is much less complex than say the transport of PPE like medical gloves or masks. If a shipment of masks sits at an airport ramp for three days, it won’t be spoiled, but globally transporting a COVID-19 vaccine requires detailed operations planning, sophisticated transportation equipment and strict temperature controls. To remain viable, a vaccine needs to be maintained at 2-8 degree Celsius throughout the shipping process. Any kind of temperature excursion from this range could result in an entire shipment of spoiled vaccines. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done.
Pre-COVID, cold chain failures cost biopharma $35 billion dollars every year from failures in temperature-controlled logistics. The World Health Organization also reports that up to 50% of vaccines are wasted annually due to improper temperature management and a lack of logistics’ ability to support the end-to-end cold chain. This spoilage rate could mean a billion COVID-19 vaccines could be wasted if not properly handled.
A successful global vaccination will require a sophisticated approach. Fortunately, there are some supply chain strategies and new technologies that can be leveraged in doing so, including:
Achieve end-to-end visibility throughout the entire supply chain
Real-time supply chain visibility is critical in mitigating cold chain risks during vaccine delivery. A holistic approach with IoT, analytics, AI and machine learning, plays an essential role in helping organizations establish ground truth in supply chain visibility. This can be used to collect real-time data such as location, dwell times, condition and history about the vaccine.
Without sensors, organizations will be clueless to the temperature of a vaccine once it departs the lab. While traditional data logger technology exists to passively collect data, it doesn’t proactively alert the logistics supplier if the temperature of the vaccine deviates a safe range.
Leverage track and trace technology and sensors to manage temperature excursions
CSafe, a temperature-controlled container specialist, has been developing and implementing track and trace technology into its Air Cargo fleet of RKN and RAP containers for two years. The company has developed strategic partnerships to support its Air Cargo track and trace technology as well as tracking for its Parcel and Cell & gene packaging solutions. CSafe has already upgraded 20 containers with active sensors and is partnering with select pharmaceutical customers to conduct live user acceptance testing before launching their solution in Q4.
There are several questions the pharmaceutical industry needs to ask itself when it comes time to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, including:
- Do you have insight into your entire end-to-end supply chain from manufacturer to patient?
- How do you manage over/under provisioning inventory, obsolescence and expiration by location?
- Are your end facilities set up for specific requirements such as cryogenic temperature storage?
- How can you protect against security, counterfeits and diversion issues?
- How can you minimize product loss from excursions?
The combination of track and trace technology with visibility software makes real-time visibility into the cold chain a reality, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Cold chains need to be able to provide the right vaccines in the right quantities, in the right condition, and at the right time, place and cost in order to be successful. Pharma companies will be well on their way to the successful distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine if they can achieve true visibility throughout their supply chains and collaborate with other companies to creatively solve cold logistics issues.