A vaccine is a very fragile medicine that needs incredibly careful handling if it is to work effectively for the patient receiving it. The biological material vaccines contain usually needs to be kept cold, often in a deep freeze, from the moment it is created to the moment it is injected into a patient. In the best of times, this is a challenge. In the time of a global pandemic when billions of doses of a vaccine will need to be distributed around the world, it will be daunting.
The good news is, we have come a long way since “the father of vaccines” Edward Jenner first pioneered the smallpox vaccine in the late 1700s. Today, many different technologies help us better distribute vaccines at these below zero temperatures. Here we will discuss several of the technologies vital to vaccine distribution and that will play a big role in the coming weeks and months to distribute a possible COVID-19 vaccine.
Many of the leading contenders to become the first COVID vaccine on the market need to be kept in a deep freeze to work effectively. This means temperatures of -112 degrees Fahrenheit (-80 Celsius) from bottling to injection. Moving vaccines at these temperatures will require serious refrigeration units on trucks, planes, ships, and in warehouses and medical facilities.
While many vehicles and spaces are currently set up to handle vaccines and other sensitive materials at these extreme temperatures, there are not enough to handle the sheer volume that will be needed to distribute a vaccine to fight a global pandemic. Retrofitting entire spaces to handle these conditions would take much time and money, so many logistics companies are turning to technologically advanced deep freezers.
These individual ultra-low freezers can maintain temperatures as cold as -86 degrees Celsius, and have state-of-the-art insulation systems, so producers can create slim, portable freezers to be used in both warehouses and airplanes.
Science has long been searching for vaccines that are shelf-stable and can be held at room temperature but these types of vaccines are slow in coming. The positive byproduct of this dilemma is that technology has become very efficient at monitoring environmental conditions to keep vaccines and other sensitive materials at precise temperatures. Advanced, internet-connected remote data loggers play a huge role in this monitoring.
According to Dickson, continuous monitoring via a system of data loggers is a reflection of GxP (good practices) being employed in industries that deal with sensitive products such as vaccines. These data loggers are incredibly accurate and can report to a central, remote cloud-based monitoring system so that a single person or a small team can monitor conditions around sensitive products.
This gives the organizations that handle these types of products precise control over the entire cold chain. Fine-tuning can be done in real-time and monitors can be alerted to issues right away so they can be remedied before they do damage to the product. All this is thanks to data loggers.
As mentioned in the data logger section above, remote cloud-based monitoring systems give logistics managers better control over the entire cold chain by making it possible for them to monitor the entire system from a central location. That is just one aspect of vaccine distribution that is enhanced by cloud computing.
The storage and powerful computing tools that cloud computing offers is a huge help for distributing vaccines. Cloud computing allows for better tracking of products through the supply chain, more storage of massive amounts of data, and analytics tools to help organizations understand where to improve their distribution efforts. Without cloud computing, the distribution network would be much less transparent and much harder to advance with data-based metrics.
Unlike most vaccines, which are pulled through the supply chain (when a set number of doses are ordered by medical centers), during the early stages of a COVID-19 vaccine release, the vaccine will be pushed through the system. This means that the government and pharmaceutical companies will work together to send out the needed doses to medical centers as they see fit.
Many of the leading contenders to be the first vaccine on the market will require two doses spaced out over a few weeks or months. Tracking doses of the vaccine is going to be incredibly important, especially when it is first released.
The Internet of Things (IoT) and GPS technology are two technologies that are critical in offering a higher level of tracking than ever before. GPS offers logistics watchers information to pinpoint locations of items and IoT technology gives devices an interconnectivity that allows close monitoring of these locations from far away. Together, these two technologies will help get the vaccine where it needs to be in an orderly and efficient manner.
This technology, which heretofore was mostly associated with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, is not currently being much used in vaccine distribution but many believe it could offer the key to having a successful worldwide vaccine rollout in late 2020 or early 2021.
Blockchain creates a secure, verifiable record of every transaction that occurs in a particular system. Using blockchain to track the movement of a vaccine would create an unquestioned and transparent record of every step in the distribution process while also keeping sensitive personal information safe. It would also help prevent fraudulent or counterfeited vaccines and identify any pain points in the supply chain so that everyone would feel confident they were getting the safest, most effective dose of the vaccine.
Vaccines have always been complicated products to distribute. The global pandemic of 2020, for which a vaccine may offer the only path towards getting back to normal life, has made this process even more complicated. Luckily, technology such as deep freezers, data loggers, cloud computing, IoT, GPS and, possibly, blockchain is available to hopefully make this process much easier and, hopefully, very successful.