The ‘cold chain logistics challenge’ of COVID-19 vaccines

With a wider list of approved vaccines, Peli BioThermal's Adam Tetz gives his take on the cold storage and packaging needed during transport.


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When the first COVID-19 cases were reported, no one could have predicted the devastating impact this virus would wreak worldwide. Developing life-saving doses was the first step in the fight back against the virus. The world then faced the significant challenges of having to protect, transport and safely store temperature-sensitive pandemic payloads worldwide.

Whilst developing effective vaccines is only part of the battle in the ongoing fight against the virus, it’s imperative the cold chain is maintained during shipping and storage, ensuring approved vaccines can be deployed worldwide without affecting efficacy.

It had been anticipated that the first year of the international inoculation programme would be dominated by the need globally for a complex, costly infrastructure, including vast freezer farms providing storage at temperatures of -80C. However, this has not been the case as temperature requirements have changed according to the rising range of vaccines being developed, approved and administered.

Collaborations with the pharmaceutical companies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) resulted in the approval of the transportation and storage of vaccines at more manageable temperatures, including -20C and 2–8C.

The advantage of the introduction of vaccines which can be stored in a standard refrigerator at 2–8C makes them more useful and accessible to developing countries, which may not be able to store large amounts of vaccine at low temperatures.

Although some vaccines will still need extreme temperature requirements, which are more difficult and costly to maintain, requiring more exotic coolants such as dry ice to achieve -80C, what we continue to see are the various vaccines’ tight temperature shipping and storage requirements changing at a rapid rate.

Temperature conditions are determined by the requirement of the vaccine or therapeutic that’s developed and subsequently approved. We are now seeing the introduction of vaccines requiring more easily controlled temperatures during transit, storage and inoculation including -20C or +5C.

These temperature requirements can be maintained via the existing infrastructure of refrigerators and freezers, which are already in place at clinics and hospitals. It also aids the ongoing deployment of vaccines to more remote regions which are harder to reach or do not have the necessary infrastructure in place to transport and store vaccines requiring extreme temperature protection.

To meet the stringent temperature requirements for vaccine distribution from manufacturer to clinics, hospitals or pop-up vaccination centres, specialized thermal packaging products have been adapted and produced within the industry that are designed to protect and perform for every step of these vaccine journeys.

The temperature requirements for shipping and storage can be complex and as additional approved vaccines are produced the logistics of transporting temperature sensitive pandemic payloads plays a major part in ensuring the worldwide vaccination programme remains on track.

List of vaccines
Although the shipping and storage requirements of emerging temperature-sensitive vaccines vary, they all need protection to mitigate potential temperature excursions during transportation. So how do the current approved vaccines compare when it comes to temperature transportation and storage requirements? A summary of  vaccine  storage and transportation temperatures can be seen in accompanying infographic.

Vaccinating the world
According to the World Health Organization, as of 19 August 2021, globally there have been 209,201,939 confirmed cases of COVID-19 including 4,390,467 deaths reported to the organization. By 18 August 2021 it reported a total of 4,543,716,443 vaccine doses had been administered worldwide.

By 20 August 2021 approximately 32.2% of the world population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 24.2% is fully vaccinated. 4.88 billion doses have been administered globally, and 35.88 million doses are now being administered on a daily basis. However, it is estimated only 1.3% of the population in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

While it is acknowledged lockdowns globally helped break the chain of the virus spreading intermittently, administering vaccines worldwide is universally viewed as the exit strategy from the pandemic in the long-term.

With the World Health Organization estimating 11 billion doses will be required to successfully vaccinate the entire world to the level of 70%, which is the point where it’s considered the transmission of the virus could be reduced substantially, until the world is vaccinated the fight against COVID-19 will continue for some time to come.

Words by Adam Tetz, Director of Worldwide Marketing at Peli BioThermal

All views expressed in this column are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect this publication’s view. This article was not edited by Payload Asia and the author was not remunerated for this article.

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