Guaranteeing integrity: pharma cold chains and Covid-19 vaccine rollouts

15th April 2021

Distributing Covid-19 vaccines, at scale and with unprecedented speed, is a challenge set to test every global cold chain. In this article we look at the end-to-end transport refrigeration and temporary storage solutions needed, and the specific products now available.

Supporting the pharma cold chain for Covid-19 vaccine rollouts

“Now the world is rediscovering the importance of the cold chain and those who are part of it”. So said Gérald Cavalier, President of the Science and Technology Council of the International Institute of Refrigeration, earlier this year after Pfizer announced the availability of its Covid-19 vaccine with temperature storage requirements of -70°C.

The news from Pfizer, followed up by similar headlines from Moderna and Astra Zeneca/Oxford, told the world that the race ‘out of the lab’ was being won to combat the pandemic. The race now is now on to get the vaccines to the patient. A race that places global cold chains firmly in the spotlight, in what one commentator has called the ‘largest product launch in history’.

A race that will no doubt turn into a marathon as countries adapt to the scale of the challenge:

  • From around 250 Covid-19 vaccine candidates, the pipeline has narrowed, though each comes with their own temperature requirements – with most falling into the 0°C to -70°C range
  • All these manufacturers combined have announced 12 billion doses for release in 2021
  • The first wave of shipments feature 6 to 7 billion of pre-ordered vaccines

A massive challenge for global pharma cold chains

Such numbers should be kept in context. For example, the first wave of vaccines for the 92 countries in the COVAX equitable access initiative represents 2 to 3 times UNICEF’s yearly routine vaccination program. In addition, it’s also worth keeping in mind historical global performance when it comes to vaccine distribution:

Clearly the unprecedented scale of the Covid-19 vaccine roll out is going to take innovative thinking, strategic partnership, and leveraging the best technologies available to maintain sustainable distribution. 

Meeting pharma’s need for confidence

It’s not difficult to determine the outcomes that vaccine manufacturers want from cold chain logistics:

  • Guarantee vaccine efficacy and maintain vaccine integrity all the way from production to patient across a temperature range of +30°C to -70°C
  • Demonstrate GDP compliance at every stage of the end-to-end delivery process
  • Provide clear, real-time track and trace capabilities to create a trusted audit trail of temperature compliance and vaccine security

The ultimate goal then for Thermo King is to deliver confidence. To assure the transport refrigeration and storage capacity exists for all vaccines and all communities: from busy urban areas to hard to reach rural areas, throughout the long haul and across the last mile.

Delivering end-to-end coverage

The emphasis is therefore on end-to-end temperature-controlled logistics. It’s here that Thermo King is already recognized as a market leader with an established portfolio of products. 

To meet the Covid-19 vaccine challenge, we’ve added in a few new innovations to ensure effective coverage every step of the way:

Cold storage solutions – provides temporary, mobile, ultra-low temperature control at all your key storage points, with container-based technology that delivers down to -70°C 

Air – where our fully electric, GDP-certified containers, created in partnership with Environtainer, offer temperature coverage of 0°C to +25°C

Ocean – Thermo King’s Magnum® Plus and SuperFreezer large volume, ISO refrigerated intermodal containers offer tight temperature controls from +30°C to -70°C

Road – our GDP-certified technologies are designed for every size truck and trailer, including the Advancer unit for long haul and urban distribution, with temperature ranges spanning +30°C to -38°C

Last mile – our vehicle-powered B and E Series, alongside mobile Cold Cube containers, enable whisper quiet and full electric refrigeration at temperatures ranging from +30°C to -30°C

Ensuring vaccine integrity every step of the way

Ensuring precise temperature control during transport is central to the vaccine strategies being coordinated across Europe. It’s a task that’s set to test many logistical operations, while also impacting the focus of future technology investments. 

The emphasis is going to be on units such as Thermo King Advancer that can deliver very precise temperature control across both long haul and urban distribution. Yet equally the pressure will also remain on areas such as cost efficiency and fleet uptime, and ensuring logistics operations can cope with demand for as long as needed.

Hence the importance of initiatives such as the money back guarantee on fuel savings with Advancer.

Now is the time to be sharing knowledge and collaborating to ensure an effective vaccine roll out. Thermo King is proud to be part of this historic enterprise, and to offer a complete end-to-end solution to help accelerate delivery.

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