Governments around the world struggle with the logistical challenges of procuring, deploying and administering vaccines at scale. To deliver the vaccines, pharmaceutical companies, logistical partners and governments have come together to create a “cold chain” that ensures vaccines are kept at precise temperatures—adding a major layer of complexity to the delivery of vaccines.
The Role of Good Distribution Practices
Clearly there’s still much that can be done from a logistical standpoint to ensure the various vaccines are able to reach the people who need them. Complexity and challenges can be found throughout the vaccine cold chain, but one major factor working in our favor is the emergence of new technology and infrastructure that will help ensure the integrity of the vaccine cold chain.
Good Distribution Practices (GDP) that describe calibration of all temperature measurement instruments and storage devices are moving from recommendations to requirement—and the quicker they’re adopted and integrated into vaccine logistics globally, the sooner the promise of vaccine prevention could help end the pandemic.
GDP was created in U.S. by the FDA, but at present they’re only recommendations and not requirements. Unfortunately, during the pandemic little progress has been made in implementing them more fully, but if they had been better established it would have created a network that would have reduced the number of vaccines that were wasted due to poor distribution practices. Presently, many aspects of these practices are enabled through pilot programs, but more work must be done to implement them on a global basis.
Once globally established, good distribution systems can be used to create networks that continuously monitor to help ensure safety in vaccine distribution as the product makes its way from manufacturer to provider and, eventually, to the patient, thereby helping to save lives and accelerating a global economic recovery.
Ensuring the integrity of the cold chain is crucial from manufacturing to distribution and storage until the vaccines are administered. Mismeasurements or variability outside established cold chain parameters, at any point, could have significant implications not only for public health, but also on any planned efforts to restart the global economy and recover from the pandemic.
For instance, different modes of transport—whether airplane, truck, train, or ocean liner—can cause temperatures to fluctuate, requiring constant temperature measurements where the results are stored and time-stamped to ensure the integrity of the cold chain is maintained and the product’s maximum potency is protected. GDP helps set standards by providing rigorous guidelines for how to safely transport vaccines that eliminate or reduce mismeasurements that can lead to compromised shipments.
The Economic & Social Impact of Accuracy
Adoption and adherence to GDP is especially important when you consider that the track record for fully executing a cold chain for vaccines has had mixed results. The World Health Organization estimates that over half of vaccines worldwide are wasted each year due to failures in the cold chain. Developing countries, in particular, have seen millions of dollars in losses due to damaged vaccines in the cold chain, and it’s in these countries that adoption of GDP could be the most impactful.
Even as the developed world races to vaccinate against the novel coronavirus while new strains emerge, a true global economic recovery will not be possible until nations around the world with limited resources to purchase, distribute and administer the vaccines are able to inoculate their populations. The stakes for ending the pandemic globally could not be higher. RAND Europe predicts that the economic impact of COVID-19 could be as much as $3.4 trillion annually, falling to $1.2 trillion if just the world’s largest economies are able to vaccine their populations.
A year into the crisis we’re beginning to get a full account of the destruction that the virus has had on manufacturers and their customers. AlixPartners found that a COVID-19 driven shortage of semi-conductors is behind a $60.6 billion loss in the automotive industry, while industries from aeronautics to machine-tool manufacturing are still struggling to cope with COVID-19 lockdowns and decreased economic activity.
Global manufacturing is uniquely exposed to a prolonged pandemic in which wealthy countries are inoculated while the virus rages in poorer regions of the world. While the return of purchasing power in developed economies would be a welcome development, the untamed pandemic in other regions will continue to disrupt supply chains and factories, forcing manufacturing and logistical delays impacting the sourcing of materials and production and delivery of products.
The Role for New Infrastructure
The good news is there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Advanced infrastructure and rigorous adherence to GDP, combined with the considerable human expertise that’s been put forth to successfully deploy this vaccine, provides the greatest hope for ending the pandemic. As we look to the future, the combination of vaccines and highly sophisticated logistical solutions offer us hope that recovery is now on the horizon. However, without global adoption and adherence to GDP that process will take longer, costing more livelihoods and more lives. It’s imperative that we get it right.
Jeff Gust is the chief corporate metrologist for