When it comes to the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, proper storage and transport have always been a critical part of the conversation. This is due largely in part to the adverse effects vaccines can experience when they are exposed to temperatures outside their intended range.
Up until now, most vaccines have been kept refrigerated at +4°C to preserve their integrity — with manufacturers, transporters, distributors and administrators establishing infrastructure to support these needs. However, with the emergence of investigative COVID-19 vaccines, the conversation around thermal stability and relevant supply chain needs shifts. The reason: two of the COVID vaccines in clinical trials must be kept frozen, one at -80°C and the other at -20°C.
The Impact of COVID Vaccine Storage & Transport on the Supply Chain
Retrofitting the entire supply chain with freezers to support COVID vaccine storage and transport will be both difficult and expensive. Let’s consider this from a few different angles.
While it is common to ship small tissue samples with dry ice (-79°C) in well-insulated boxes, shipping massive numbers of frozen vaccine vials is at a completely different scale. Delivery service organizations like FedEx, UPS and DHL are now adding -80°C freezer farms to their airport hubs for COVID vaccine storage between flights or while waiting for trucks to complete the delivery.
Full-size -80°C freezers are both large and very heavy, making them difficult to move. They also require at least 10 amps of power to operate, which calls for considerable electrical capacities and dedicated 220V outlets for the freezers — adding further costs to freezer investments. What’s more, is that these freezers generate considerable amounts of heat, so HVAC cooling capacities will have to be upgraded, often in the form of expensive rooftop units that come with long lead times and complicated installations.
For the hospitals and clinics that are administering COVID vaccines, an investment in -80°C is also necessary. That way, the thermal stability of the vaccines can be preserved before it comes time to provide them to patients.
Typically, a single -80°C freezer costs more than $8,000. While this expense can be difficult for hospitals and clinics to endure under any circumstance, healthcare facilities have already been struggling financially amid COVID-19 due to the cancellation of many elective surgical procedures. So the need to invest in COVID vaccine storage freezers only exacerbates this financial burden.
A Question That Remains Around Thermal Stability
One unknown that remains is how sensitive COVID vaccines will be to storage temperatures that are higher than the stated target temperature. For instance: Will the efficacy of vaccines diminish if they’re stored at 60°C for more than a few hours?
There are many temperature sensors and loggers that can be placed inside the cartons with the COVID vaccines prior to shipment, and then be reviewed upon arrival at the hospital or clinic to view the temperature history during transport. This data can be compared to guidelines that vaccine manufacturers are likely to share for safe temperature excursions and restrictions on using vaccines if temperatures were too high for too long.
There are also temperature sensors that can be placed inside the vaccine cartons and are equipped with wireless communications. So if planes, trucks and depots have wireless capabilities, temperatures can be tracked in real-time, and the transporter (e.g., a plane, truck or van) can be notified in transit that the onboard refrigeration system is not working properly and that the vaccine temperatures are rising. These real-time insights provide time to resolve the refrigeration problem before vaccines are jeopardized — a scenario that also plays out in the healthcare environment as well.
CORIS Supplies Real-Time Temperature Monitoring
The vaccine cold chain is changing with the new emergence of COVID vaccines — and supply chains must adapt. At CORIS, our goal is to help streamline this transition.
Our 24-hour, cloud-based continuous temperature monitoring system leverages wireless sensors to monitor all types of freezers and refrigerators (-80°C freezers included). Real-time temperature data is paired with real-time alerts to notify you of temperature issues inside freezers, so you’ll know when there is a threat to your vaccines and can take immediate action. All the while, customers can benefit from a simple installation process that lowers set up costs and improves overall aesthetics. (Note: CORIS sensors don’t require wires for +4°C and -20°C.)
In light of COVID-19, we’re currently offering a free trial of our remote monitoring services. Simply fill out the form on our website, and we’ll be in touch with next steps.