Ensuring equal access to Covid vaccines: the challenge of ultra-cold storage

1st February 2022

We can all appreciate that with Covid-19 has come the biggest vaccination campaign in history. Yet the scale of the endeavor can only be fully appreciated when you consider the numbers.

  • Approximately 10 billion doses have now been administered
  • This equates to 37.5 million doses a day, across 184 countries
  • In total, 124 doses have been given for every 100 people around the world

All of which points to a stunning collective effort. Yet one very obvious problem continues to limit the impact of these numbers: vaccine access has been uneven, and biased toward more developed nations.

Indeed, countries with the highest incomes are getting vaccinated at more than 10x faster than those with the lowest.

Gaps in capacity

It’s a challenge that isn’t going away any time soon. For example, it was estimated that at the end of 2021 only 9% of people on the African continent have been fully vaccinated.

Multiple factors can be found to explain such unbalanced progress. Yet one of the biggest barriers still remains the condition and limitations of local and regional cold chains, and in particular a chronic lack of ultra-low temperature storage:

  • All Covid-19 vaccines require cold chain storage, ranging from around -70°C (-94°F) to around 2-8°C (36-46°F) when administered
  • In Africa alone, the World Health Organization claims many countries are not prepared to store vaccine doses – and need to “ramp up significantly 3-5x their capacity”
  • The same survey suggests that 31% of countries in the region have over 50% of districts with gaps in their cold chain capacity

Building up the required infrastructure

Filling in these gaps in national cold chain calls for coordinated action and access to the very best technologies available. In India for example, as they prepared for a big vaccine push in 2021, the Ministry of Health publicly stated the full extent of their cold storage needs – which included:

  • 29,000 cold chain points
  • 240 walk-in coolers and 70 walk-in freezers
  • 45,000 ice-lined refrigerators
  • 41,000 deep freezers

Such numbers also help tell of a distinct challenge in countries like India: to ensure vaccines availability is not centered in urban areas alone, but also made available to rural communities that may be far away from established health centers.

Frozen on demand

Many Covid-19 vaccine supply chains are also learning quickly the difference between cold and ultra-cold. In particular, the ultra-cold temperatures needed to keep some vaccines stable down to -70°C. Ramping up these capabilities has been described by UNICEF as “the largest deployment of ultra-cold chain technologies in history”.

The demand for ultra-cold storage solutions has therefore reached an unprecedented high. In response, the equipment manufacturers supplying this type of technology has seized the opportunity to demonstrate new innovations – and deliver products able to meet global expectations in a timely manner.

At Thermo King, we’ve been leading the charge since the very beginning to ensure critical cold storage solutions are available where and when they’re needed.

Levelling the playing field

In support of the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines to the entire international community, irrespective of local conditions, Thermo King has been quick to expand its cold storage solutions.

Thermo King’s temperature storage containers can be fitted with with Thermo King Magnum Plus® and SuperFreezer refrigerated technology.

SuperFreezer in particular offers the capabilities needed to ‘level the playing field’ of vaccine distribution, thanks to its:

  • Ultra-low temperature range – and the ability to set temperatures between -70°C – -10°C with an accuracy of +/- 1°C
  • Flexible and adaptable design – with each ISO container easily stackable and ranging in size from 10-45ft
  • Ability to offer remote monitoring – giving organizations and governments real-time data access to monitor conditions 24/7 (and its fully GDP compliant!)

Protecting vaccines where they’re needed most

As the vaccine delivery program continues, every barrier to fair and equitable access is gradually being overcome. Making this happen has been a historic undertaking, based on innovation, collaboration, and the cutting edge of technology.

Thermo King is proud to have played its part, as we continue to supply proven and dependable ultra-cold storage solutions.

You can find out more about our vaccine distribution technology here.