The COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to history’s fastest developed vaccines, and we have already started rolling out the vaccine to the masses. With companies racing towards vaccinating people, one of the biggest challenges they face is logistics. Given that some of the COVID-19 vaccines need a temperature-controlled environment, pharmaceutical companies must find a reliable way of transporting vaccines from point A to point B whilst obeying the vaccine transport guidelines.
The Logistical Challenges in Transporting COVID-19 Vaccine
With billions of people to vaccinate, companies must keep the production in line with the ever-increasing demand. But it doesn’t just end there. The newly developed COVID vaccines have stringent storage and transportation guidelines. Let us review some of these challenges.
The pandemic won’t stop until the majority population gets vaccinated. However, most COVID-19 vaccines in development now require at least two dosages to be effective.
This means we need at least 15 billion dosages of COVID-19 vaccines globally. We already saw the two major players, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, report that they wouldn’t be able to meet the production targets. This is where proper management and vaccination tracking are of prime importance.
Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine needs to be stored at -70°C, which is 50°C colder than any other vaccine storage demands.
To keep the vaccines from going below that temperature mark, we currently use dry ice. With the COVID-19 vaccine, we're going to need a lot of dry ice to keep the vaccines safe. As a result, the demand for dry ice shot up in the US, where experts are already discussing the possibility of regional shortages in the coming months.
Secondly, the vaccine must have an unbroken cold chain. If the US finds it difficult to maintain this chain, developing countries receiving these vaccines will likely have a harder time due to the lack of proper infrastructure.
To maintain the cold chain, constant temperature monitoring is necessary.
The CDC made it easier for authorities to understand vaccine transportation and storage specifics with their Vaccine Storage and Handling Toolkit. The toolkit consists of the basic requirements as well as the best practices for handling the vaccine.
Manufactures like Pfizer use thermal data loggers to monitor the vaccine temperature right from production till final delivery to vaccine providers.
Vaccine tracking is also a priority. Without proper tracking, we cannot ensure the availability of vaccines everywhere.
In the US, FedEx and United Parcel Service are the front runners in transporting COVID vaccines. They are implementing GPS tracking to maintain the traceability of the COVID vaccine.
Hospitals must also maintain a comprehensive inventory management system that can track the vaccines once they arrive at the vaccine centers.
Why do Pfizer and Other COVID Vaccines Need Ultra-Low Temperature?
Vaccines like Pfizer require ultra-low temperatures because of the mRNA component present in the vaccine. The mRNA component is fragile and can breakdown easily if certain environmental conditions are not met – one among them is temperature.
In the past, mRNA vaccines were not so popular because of the complexities associated with instability. However, now we have the technology to create stable mRNA vaccines. Currently, the mRNA-based COVID vaccines can only remain stable at ultra-low temperatures.
Who Needs to Store and Monitor the Temperature of the COVID-19 Vaccines?
Vaccine providers will receive vaccines from CDC’s centralized distributor or directly from the vaccine manufacturer. The term “Vaccine provider” includes certified doctors’ offices, retail pharmacies, hospitals, and federally qualified health centers. Hence, they are eligible for directly getting vaccines right from companies like Pfizer or Moderna.
After the vaccine handover, it is the vaccine provider’s responsibility to keep the vaccine under the right conditions. The manufacturer will provide the vaccines in thermal shippers along with dry ice. Each shipper will also have a GPS enabled temperature logger so that the manufacturer can track the vaccine and its temperature.
The shipping container needs to be returned to the manufacturer after 30 days, along with the GPS logger. Vaccine providers should also use thermal data loggers to monitor the temperature.
Different Temperature Requirements for the Approved Vaccines
The temperature requirement for each vaccine differs. Let us look at the temperature requirements of the approved vaccines.
- Pfizer-BioNTech: Must be stored between -80°C and -60°C
- Moderna: Must be stored between -25°C and -15°C
- AstraZeneca: Must be stored between 2°C to 8 °C
- Johnson & Johnson: Vaccine in development, to be announced. Initial reports claim the vaccine can be stored between 2°C and 8°C
- Novavax: Vaccine in development, to be announced. Initial reports claim the vaccine can be stored between 2°C and 8°C
What is the Difference between Frozen & Refrigeration Storage?
Frozen storages have a temperature range from -15°C and lower. COVID-19 vaccines, such as the one from Pfizer, need such a storage mechanism right from the time they are manufactured until administered. In case if the temperature drops, or if the vaccine is stored under 2-8°C conditions, it is not possible to freeze the vials again or store them back under frozen conditions.
In comparison, refrigeration storage maintains temperatures similar to our home refrigerators. Vaccines that can be refrigerated are stored in a temperature range of 2°C and 8°C (examples are the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine or MMR).
At Omega, we offer standalone data logging solutions for continuous temperature monitoring to ensure the cold chain remains uninterrupted and vaccine quality is maintained. We also offer temperature monitoring solutions for applications that require real-time monitoring. Browse our range of temperature monitoring solutions, or reach out to us for more assistance on selecting the right product for your temperature monitoring requirements.