Cold Chain Logistics – the very real challenge behind delivering vaccines

The rolling out of the Covid-19 vaccine certainly is a  glimmer of hope in the fight against the pandemic, but the world is far from celebrations.  

The next big hurdle facing the world is distributing the vaccine, which relies on a complex supply chain of freezers and temperature-controlled shipping methods called the ‘cold chain.’ 

Let’s take a look at why the vaccine’s distribution and administration have emerged as an unprecedented logistical challenge. 

A tale of troublesome temperatures

In the last one year, investment in cold chain infrastructure didn’t gather at the same pace at which the vaccine was developed.

Vaccines typically require appropriate storage conditions at all points in the supply chain to ensure their efficacy when they reach the patient. And it’s no big deal. For instance, the flu vaccine requires refrigerated storage between 2° to 5 °C. 

However, the covid-19 vaccine has very stringent requirements.

The Pfizer and BioNTech covid-19 vaccine needs to be stored at around -70°C. In contrast, the Moderna vaccine requires -20°C temperature to remain stable for up to six months. Thankfully, due to its different formulation, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored in normal refrigerated conditions: 2° to 8°C. 

Needless to say, with different temperature requirements and handling procedures, advanced cold chain facilities have become critical to administering the vaccine to the masses. 

Where the Cold Chain doesn’t go

Experts have estimated that somewhere between 12 billion and 15 billion Covid-19 vaccines are needed globally. At present, the world produces and distributes around 6.4 billion flu vaccines annually, and it’s predicted that about 9 billion Covid-19 vaccines will be made in 2021. 

The downside to these numbers is that the global cold chain is massively underdeveloped, with only about 10% of the required capacity existing in some developing nations to handle this huge increase on top of the vaccines distributed every year.

To put things in perspective, despite the efforts to equip developing countries with cold chain facilities, nearly 3 billion of the world’s 7.8 billion people live where temperature-controlled storage is insufficient. 

Especially in less developed countries with high daytime temperatures, spotty electricity supply and lack of roads, let alone airports, delivering the vaccine successfully remains an arduous task. 

According to a report by the International Air Transport Association, 25% of vaccines are degraded by the time they arrive at their destination and temperature errors cause losses of around $34.1 billion annually.

Bending without breaking 

Dealing with such complex problems requires advanced solutions. Several organisations have resorted to real-time tracking systems, which allow traceability across the journey of the shipment. Some systems also help ensure that the consignment is being transported at the right temperature. 

GoComet co-founder and Director Chitransh Sahai said, “A well-rounded infrastructure between tech, policy and knowledge transfer is needed to mitigate the problem.” 

“As the industry continues to weather the crisis, having end-to-end visibility on the movement of consignments is crucial. It will help shippers stay on top of the process,  foresee possible problems and take the right steps to prevent wastage of the vaccine,” he added.  

Logistics service providers, healthcare professionals, manufacturers and thousands of other stakeholders have joined hands to ensure global access to the vaccine. While vaccine distribution and administration isn’t without countless obstacles, we hope that 2021 will be more favourable than the year before.

If you’re looking to fortify your supply chain from future shocks and disruptions, reach out to GoComet today. 

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