Preparations for a COVID-19 vaccine rollout highlight the complex nature of vaccine shipping and the need for real-time cold chain monitoring of sensitive cargoes.
How do you ship a vaccine that must be kept at freezer or even deep-freeze temperatures without ruining it? Especially when you’re shipping millions of vials across the globe to stop a pandemic? The answer: very carefully.
The COVID-19 vaccines in development, like many other vaccines and pharmaceutical products, require strict environmental control. Some of the vaccines need to remain cool. Others are frozen and must stay that way. One may require an arctic temperature as low as -112 degrees F (-80 Celsius). By comparison, ice cream and steaks are shipped at -80 F.
If at any point between pickup and delivery a vaccine shipment goes out of a specified temperature range, an event known as a temperature excursion, the integrity of the vaccine may be compromised, and a $1 million shipment might need to be discarded. A damaged vaccine shipment could lead to health risks, jeopardize consumer confidence and damage brand reputation.
Single-use tracking devices with temperature and proximity sensor capabilities can provide temperature information at the pallet level throughout the long shipment journey of most vaccines. Push the button to turn on the sensor, and a pallet of vaccines can be tracked in flight, at sea and over the road to its final destination.
CalAmp’s new SC1302, for example, logs temperatures down to -20 C. 4G LTE makes it future-proof; the device will still function after 3G networks go dark. In addition, CAT-M cellular communication will enable tracking across multiple countries, including countries with older, 2G cellular networks, once the device is FAA certified internationally. It’s also GPS and Wi-Fi capable.
Temperature loggers not only help manufacturers ensure the integrity of their products, they also provide an audit trail that can be used to verify for insurance purposes that the product wasn’t compromised during transit.
Near real-time global shipment visibility
Disposable tracking devices that communicate with mobile gateways take cold chain monitoring to the next level, providing near real-time shipment visibility, which is especially important for vaccine shipping.
Manufacturers can receive an alert notification if a temperature excursion occurs. Through APIs, they can even receive warning notifications if the temperature begins to creep toward the set maximum, which could help them reduce spoilage in the event a refrigerator truck breaks down, for example, or someone leaves the pallet on the dock. If only one pallet in a container experiences an excursion, the others can potentially be saved.
Real-time environmental monitoring allows manufacturers and their logistics service provider partners to document for compliance with regulatory bodies and governmental directives aimed at preventing loss, contamination and spoilage of critical medical shipments, such as the European Union Guidelines on Good Distribution Practice (GDP) and the U.S. Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA).
It can also help guard against another significant threat: theft.
Vaccines and other high-value pharmaceutical products are often targets for thieves. Keeping eyes on vaccine shipments at vulnerable points in the supply chain such as distribution centers and truck stops is critical. With devices that enable real-time location tracking, geofences can be set that allow for alert notifications when a shipment leaves the proximity of its telematics device.
From cold chain to colder chain
Monitoring frozen vaccines that require arctic temperatures during storage and transit call for even more advanced technology. Near real-time data logging for dry ice and cryogenic shipments is the next frontier of cold chain monitoring.
Companies that ship vaccines and other pharmaceutical products via liquid nitrogen are working to test new technology using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, such as a forthcoming BLE smart tag from CalAmp that can monitor temperature ranges down to -260F (-162 C) when connected with a thermocouple extended range probe. This smart tag will be available for pilot testing and API integration next year.
Shipping a frozen COVID-19 vaccine to all corners of the globe presents one of the most complex and critical challenges the pharmaceutical and supply chain industries have ever faced. Technology that enables real-time visibility into environmental conditions will be the golden ring for companies that assume responsibility for getting these potentially life-saving vials where they need to go, safely and securely.