Immunization against a virus like COVID-19 and its variants is vital for the world today. COVID-19 disturbed the health of so many citizens of our world. The wait for vaccines began right from the first virus outbreak in 2020.
Vaccines today are the most crucial solution the world has come up with to counter COVID-19. Everyone pays close attention to every update scientists have regarding vaccinations, boosters, availability, administration, and efficacy from politicians to the general public. Along with the anticipation, vaccines are also subjected to studies and research to assess their effectiveness and safety.
After witnessing the heart-wrenching deaths and illnesses caused by the virus, vaccines are the ray of hope for billions of people fighting Covid-19. Five hundred million vaccine shots have been administered in the past one and a half years in the US alone. With an average of 39.2 million vaccine shots per day, over 184 countries have administered 9.23 billion doses. However, while vaccines are here to form a line of protection, they require protection from adverse temperature conditions.
As multiple companies today have come up with their vaccine for the virus, the efficacy of these vaccines is what distinguishes them from one another.
The supply chain plays a crucial role in maintaining the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. They must be stored at specific temperatures until the vaccine doses are administered to individuals. Covid-19 vaccines are stored in vials that are kept in extremely cold conditions. They are transferred to the syringe before being administered to the recipient. Since vaccines require cold storage, the supply chain for vaccine vials is a cold chain process.
WHY ARE TEMPERATURE MONITORING STUDIES CONDUCTED FOR VACCINES?
When vaccines get exposed to temperatures outside the required temperature range for storage, they lose their potency and become ineffective.
As suggested by Dickson Data, temperature monitoring studies are vital to ensure the integrity of the cold chain, which is valid for both developed and developing nations. However, developing countries especially have challenges maintaining a proper cold chain for the transport of the Covid-19 vaccines. The transport of vaccines through challenging terrains, poor stock management, and inadequate facilities are some of the many reasons why effective vaccine management is an arduous task for these countries and regions. All of these factors heavily impact the tedious supply chain process.
The WHO (World Health Organization) has set specific protocols for temperature monitoring studies to support their Effective Vaccine Management Initiative. This initiative sets the standards for the management of vaccines throughout the supply chain.
Temperature monitoring studies help supply chain managers assess the risks involved in the supply chain process of vaccines. As mentioned earlier, this is a cold chain management process, and the cold chain has various segments until a dose is administered to an individual. In between these segments of managing the vaccines in a temperature range through the supply chain, there can easily be discrepancies that can cause damage to the vaccines.
HOW ARE TEMPERATURE MONITORING STUDIES CONDUCTED?
Temperature monitoring studies are conducted by measuring what temperature the vaccines are exposed to in various segments of the storage process through the supply chain.
Countries and organizations use resources like UNICEF’s Cold Chain Support Package, WHO’s Vaccine Management Handbook, WHO’s Effective Vaccine Management Standard Model Operating Procedures, and WHO’s Study Protocol for Temperature Monitoring in the Cold Chain to manage the vaccine supply chain and conduct temperature monitoring studies.
The supply chain (cold chain) for vaccines is split into multiple segments. The most common vaccine journey occurs from primary stores to intermediary stores and health centers to outreach or delivery sites. Various factors need to be addressed during this process. The idea is to take note of every single vulnerability in the vaccine delivery process.
During vaccine temperature monitoring studies, the proportion of time vaccine vials are exposed to various temperature zones in the supply chain process is considered. All of the distribution routes are taken into consideration, and the proportion of times shipments spend in transit and storage are analyzed. Different temperature ranges the vaccines are exposed to during storage and transit are noted.
For example, if vaccine vials are traveling from Point A to Point B, how long were the vials exposed to temperatures in the range of 2 degrees Celsius to 8 degrees celsius? This type of data is analyzed during the study. Similarly, information is collected regarding every other temperature range the vaccine is exposed to.
This process helps understand where exactly the issues lie during the supply chain process. It can also help determine if vaccines delivered to a particular location were unusable and should have been discarded.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Results from most studies around the world today do not show frequent occurrences of freezing or overheating during the vaccine supply chain process to the point where vaccines need to be discarded. However, there are always deviations during the supply chain where things are not always going as planned. Many countries have noticed irregularities during the transit and storage of vaccines. Another point to note is that there are not enough vaccine temperature monitoring studies. The distribution routes analyzed in studies globally make up only 1% of the actual distribution routes in the vaccine supply chain.
There is a need for more awareness of vaccine temperature monitoring studies to conduct more studies globally. Vaccine temperature monitoring studies have to be included as a routine practice for the vaccine supply chain process to become more efficient with continuous analysis of the risk areas during distribution. A solid supply chain is vital to maintaining vaccine potency. Bodies like the WHO and UNICEF have been pushing the envelope globally on the importance of vaccine temperature monitoring since the last decade. These organizations propose establishing frameworks that support fully documented studies to detect weaknesses in the chain and replace them with well-organized practices. With the pandemic we have at hand, the vaccine supply chain is of utmost concern and needs to evolve with regular advancements.