Students of history know that wars are often won and lost on the basis of their supply chains. Delivering the materials for war, such as ammunitions, medical supplies, and food, is a vital function in any military operation. An efficient and resilient supply chain can mean the difference between a world-class military and a ramshackle group of people unable to manage the basic principles of organization.
In the battle against the novel coronavirus, the supply chain for delivering the vaccine will be as vital for defeating the virus as was the research that produced the vaccine. Hundreds of thousands of workers and a mix of dozens of public and private organizations will make up the army that will be required to deliver the vaccine to the people that need it the most. Cutting-edge technology solutions for health and safety will be vital to ensuring the safety and security of the revolutionary cold chain that is the lifeline for vaccine delivery.
The Requirements of the Vaccine Cold Chain
The news that multiple COVID-19 vaccines have now been approved has been received with world-wide jubilation. As of now, the difficult work of vaccinating the most vulnerable segments of the population has already begun, and experts are predicting that the battle against the coronavirus that has killed 1.6 million people and devastated the global economy could tilt firmly in our favor by the end of 2021.
Yet a great deal of difficult work remains, not least of which is creating, maintaining, and monitoring an international cold chain that can ensure delivery of the different vaccines to diverse communities around the world. The two leading vaccines, one by Pfizer and the other by Moderna, each boast high levels of efficacy. However, the Pfizer vaccine must be kept at -70 degrees Celsius throughout the cold chain, which is beyond the standard capabilities of much current cold chain technology. Moderna’s vaccine can be stored at a relatively warm -20 degrees Celsius. The strict requirements of the cold chain for both vaccines mean that there is a high risk of spoilage if the temperature fluctuates. There will also be considerable difficulty extending the cold chain to remote regions of the world that are locked in the deadly grip of COVID-19 but can’t support the cold chain technology to facilitate delivery of the vaccine.
The Deadly Problem of the Vaccine Cold Chain
Cold chains rely on dry ice to maintain a constant temperature. Dry ice is CO2 gas that has been pressurized into solid form. It is then packed around containers of vaccine to keep the temperature consistently cold. However, dry ice can be dangerous. If it warms to a certain temperature, it sublimates into carbon dioxide gas. Carbon dioxide is heavier that oxygen, which means it can displace oxygen and suffocate the people working with it when in a closed environment.
Liquid nitrogen is the primary agent in the cryogenic containers in which the vaccine will be stored in warehouses and hospitals. Like dry ice, liquid nitrogen can displace oxygen in a closed environment and lead to suffocation and carbon dioxide intoxication. While everyone involved in the cold chain should be trained in the specialized skills for handling dangerous materials, the consequences of a leak or a spill of a cooling agent during transport or storage require extra attention and care.
Technology Solutions to Maintaining a Safe Cold Chain
Industrial Scientific provides gas monitoring equipment to organizations around the world. To meet the requirements for a safe cold chain, Industrial Scientific recently provided several GasBadge® Pro monitors to a leading medical center, whose EHS leader is responsible for managing the risk and safety in their vaccine cold chain. This device can detect low oxygen levels, as well as the presence of toxic gases like carbon dioxide that could endanger the lives of the people working diligently to maintain the integrity of the vaccine cold chain.
Data, record keeping, and ongoing training will also be vital to ensure the continuous improvement of the supply chain. Intelex solutions such as Incident Management, Supplier Relationship Management, and Industrial Hygiene Management can provide the information organizations need to identify the risks of incidents before they occur and keep the cold chain delivering the vaccine to the people who need it most.
The coronavirus vaccines have given the world hope that the COVID-19 crisis will end in 2021, giving people and the economy an opportunity to recover, learn, and become more resilient in the face of future crises. Those vaccines rely on the cold chain, which needs people, processes, and tools to ensure that the logistical path to recovery remains efficient and safe for everyone. Industrial Scientific, Intelex, and many other organizations are at the forefront of that work, not only in delivering the solutions that are needed right now, but in learning and innovating to be ready for the new post-pandemic reality.