With discussions about a vaccine being available as early as September, something we all hope happens, if not sooner, once the vaccine is available in large quantities it will need to be distributed. Forgetting about the politics of where the vaccine is manufactured and where it is to be distributed, there are logistics issues to be addressed when moving vaccines around.
Vaccines usually need to be kept at between 1 – 8°C and sometimes much tighter controlled temperatures such as 2 – 5°C. Specialist packaging normally is used to ensure the temperature does not exceed these strict limits and a temperature logger is included with shipments to provide assurance that this has been the case.
Once delivered, the vaccine is stored in fridges for longer term storage until it can be used or reaches its expiry date. Fridges are also monitored using temperature loggers which can be designed for longer durations than those used for shipping. Infrequent checking with a USB device or real-time monitoring is normal, so that if a problem occurs and the fridge is showing a rise in temperature, staff are alerted before the contents of the fridge are damaged.
Temperature monitoring is of vital importance for vaccines because if the vaccine has exceeded its temperature limits it can be damaged. Further, there is no way to tell from the naked eye if this has happened, it will still look exactly the same and if used, the patient will live their life believing they are safe from a dangerous disease when they are not.
Hopefully, it is a question of when, not if, there is a Covid-19 vaccine and it will be one of the most sought after medical products ever. As such, it will require a huge volume of medical shipments, packaging and the services that go with it for many months if not years. The distribution challenge will be huge, given the millions of people who will need to be immunised to kill off this virus for good and the difficulty of reaching some regions, achieving this successfully will be no small feat.
Certainly, from the camaraderie we have seen across the globe in efforts to suppress coronavirus so far, it gives us great hope that everyone will work together when a vaccine is available to distribute it as quickly and safely as possible.