Science

Cold-chain blues and other hurdles of vaccine delivery

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on November 19, 2020 Published on November 19, 2020

Transportation, storage will be critical in this complex journey

Just imagine — it will take the equivalent of 8,000 Boeing 747 cargo aircraft to transport a single dose of Covid-19 vaccine to 7.8 billion people across the globe.

As the vaccine enters the crucial phase of development, the focus now turns to the complex logistics involved in delivering the vaccine to India’s large populations.

It will require a robust supply-chain involving pharma companies, airlines, logistics service providers and cold-storage companies. Also needed are a vast army of healthcare workers. Is India ready?

Challenges ahead

B Govindarajan of Tirwin Management Services, a business consultancy, says that while transportation of vaccines in India has been done for many years, these have been on a limited scale and different conditions. He suggests a designated ‘national authority’ should develop an Integrated Vaccine Management Programme for the Covid-19 vaccine.

Already, airlines are gearing up to meet the challenge of transporting the vaccine. IndiGo is planning to launch dedicated freight services. SpiceJet is in the process of expanding its cold-chain facilities including putting in place temperature-controlled warehouses and containers, thermal blankets and data loggers.

 

Cold-chain logistics, including storage, is going to be critical in vaccine distribution, feels Mansur Mehta, Managing Director of Coldrush Logistics. Given the panic, there are fears of pilferage. Hence, secured loading and safeguarding at every point in its journey is important.

According to Satish Lakkaraju, Chief Commercial officer, Agility Logistics Pvt Ltd, distribution and administration of vaccine will be a herculean task in India due to its size and the temperature required to store the vaccine.

Admittedly, India has experience in running a successful Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP), supported by over 27,000 functional cold-chain points, of which 750 (3 per cent) are located at the district levels and above. The rest are located below the district level. This includes 76,000 cold-chain ‘equipment’, 2.5 million health workers, and 55,000 cold-chain staff.

Storage of vaccines

But the Covid-19 vaccine candidates require storage at well below zero degree Celsius (down to -80°C) and between 2°C and 8°C at the point of delivery. Maintaining those temperatures will be difficult, Lakkaraju said.

There are reports of Pfizer starting work on a powdered version of its vaccine to overcome cold storage challenges, but that’s a long shot!

 

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Published on November 19, 2020
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