As governments and public health bodies around the world gear up for the challenge of distributing new COVID-19 vaccines, on Tuesday, Finnish supply chain analytics startup Logmore announced the launch of Logmore Dry Ice, a new product that could make safe shipping of vaccines easier and less expensive.
Logmore Dry Ice, an adaptation of the company’s original data recorder system, monitors numerous condition metrics while shipments are in transit, even in temperatures of -100°C, and it uses a novel system of dynamic QR code displays to sync and access this data from any smartphone. With better visibility into the progress of and conditions surrounding sensitive shipments, transportation companies can avoid the dangers of vaccines degradation en route.
Both the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines require cold storage – Moderna’s at -20°C, Pfizer’s at -70°C – even as they travel long distances from labs and factories, often through tropical climates and across regions with poor transport infrastructure. Logmore Dry Ice is capable of monitoring sensitive deep-freeze shipments, helping with quality assurance as the COVID-19 vaccine crosses the globe.
Vaccine Distribution Challenges Abound
The fat molecules which serve as the vehicle for the Pfizer vaccine degrade quickly, lasting only five days at refrigerator temperatures. They therefore have to be stored in special freezers that reach lower temperatures than standard freezers. These units aren’t just too expensive for many poorer nations and regions – they are also in short supply worldwide.
Fair distribution means bringing the vaccine to every country, including those with tropical temperatures, weak transport links and weakened economies that can’t afford expensive storage or transit solutions.
“The COVID-19 vaccine will be transported all over the world – in planes, in trucks, through different warehouses, in tropical temperatures,” said Logmore COO Niko Polvinen in a statement. “We need to make sure every vaccine is safe to use and protects the person receiving it.”
Vaccine priority goes to healthcare workers and the most vulnerable populations, including people who are elderly, disabled, immunocompromised or on the poverty line, but these groups encompass some of the world’s most hard to reach individuals. Even in wealthier regions like the US and the EU, there are many vulnerable people who are geographically isolated.
Currently, Pfizer is shipping vaccines in cold-protected boxes of 1,000 or 5,000. Rolling out the vaccine to small numbers of scattered individuals means many healthcare authorities won’t use up even a smaller box within the five days before they expire. Once expired, the vaccine can’t be refrozen. Additionally, everyone who receives it will require a second dose 28 days later, which means broaching – and potentially wasting – another box.
Public health authorities and international organizations will have to shoulder the cost of vaccine distribution and administration. But these groups have already run out of money fighting the effects of the pandemic. They lack the budget to invest in expensive cold storage infrastructure, but can’t waste money throwing away expired vaccines.
The Missing Link of Cold Chain Data
Unlike most dry ice-compatible loggers, Logmore Dry Ice can track and send data about internal temperature, location, shocks, humidity, tilt, and light, at temperatures down to -100°C in real time. Logmore’s loggers all sync with the cloud through dynamic QR codes, so they can be updated and tracked through any smartphone.
Better logistics data can reduce the need for costly freezers and make up for gaps in rural health infrastructure, because vaccines will be delivered faster and in better condition. As an example, Pfizer’s vaccine boxes keep the contents cold for 10 days if unopened. They can then be opened and the dry ice refreshed up to three times every five days.
If vaccines reach their destination earlier in the timeframe, they can be stored in their existing boxes without a dedicated freezer.
According to one recent report from The International Air Transport Association (IATA), around 25% of vaccines generally arrive in a subpar state due to shipping mishaps, and 20% of temperature-sensitive products arrive damaged due to cold chain issues. Logistics data can significantly cut these statistics by improving visibility into the entire supply chain.
Logmore’s insights enable logistics contractors to preserve vaccines for longer by providing better visibility into conditions, while allowing them to differentiate from competitors with quality assurance transparency.
In some situations, it may even be possible for logistics companies that have access to ongoing condition logs to rescue a shipment and return it to cold storage before it expires. Even notifications that a vaccine has been compromised are vital, because they ensure public health bodies have confidence in the efficacy of the vaccine, and help raise trust in a vaccine that is already viewed with suspicion.
“From a logistics perspective, this cargo is highly susceptible to temperature variations,” said Polvinen. “Any big deviations will ruin the product. Logmore Dry Ice is the only QR data logger that withstands the extreme temperatures and rigorous requirements of COVID-19 vaccine.”
Global Cooperation as a Difference Maker
Improved logistics is not enough on its own. Effective and equitable distribution of the vaccine depends on increased international cooperation between governments, air cargo and ground transit stakeholders, international organisations, and customs agencies.
Security partners and government authorities need to collaborate to ensure that shipments aren’t held up at international borders or seized by competing forces. Freight companies need to map their storage capabilities, share resources, and plan shipment timing to avoid delays. Meanwhile, non-profit agencies need to work together to build better cold chain capacity and transportation infrastructure in developing countries and challenged regions.
Cloud-synced, cost-effective data transparency is key to making all of this happen.