Modern developments in cold chain management for supply chains involve sensors to measure temperatures to gauge the quality of perishable goods. This strategy has become essential in the transport of COVID-19 vaccines. Maintaining appropriate temperature levels is at the heart of this management process, which helps accelerate mass vaccinations.
Logistics Challenges for Vaccine Distributors
The key to improving cold chain management among pharma manufacturers and suppliers will involve developing safety, security, and performance standards for storage and shipping. Companies can use specialized packaging and freezing devices to keep pharma products cold. Track and trace technology can ensure vaccine protection from environmental factors such as heat and light at each stage of the shipping process, from packaging to last-mile delivery.
One of the main concerns for cold chain logistics has been strong cybersecurity, which can be improved with encryption, blockchain, and 24/7 network monitoring software. New test protocols have been developed by manufacturers to improve the chances of successfully transporting vaccines with minimal losses. These test protocols include the following:
- Temperature sensor sensitivity - Incremental measurements of temperature need to be precise and consistent with standards. The sensors reactivity to heat levels must be calibrated to ensure accuracy.
- Wireless connectivity - The internet connection needs to be reliable with minimal downtime. The advent of 5G networks will help deliver more data faster at a lower cost.
- Cybersecurity layers - Each link in the supply chain must be well protected with multiple security types, including firewalls, virtualization, and antivirus software.
- Free from RF noise - IoT devices based on radio frequency (RF) technology need to be free of RF noise to operate at optimum performance.
- Reliability - The data management platform, internet connection, and sensors must all be reliable at delivering data on an ongoing basis.
- Interoperability - As more IoT components integrate and communicate with each other, the smart ecosystem will become more powerful.
Challenges at the packaging stage involve ensuring vials are cleaned and sterilized, whether during the initial packaging process or at a different stage. Manufacturers will need to determine the most efficient methods for sterilizing vials, filling them with vaccines, and letting them cool to the proper temperature level. The next issue to address is how cooled vials will be safely packaged, stored, and eventually transported while maintaining the right temperature.
Once the vaccines have been distributed, other challenges arise concerning the disposal of vaccine packaging materials and vials. By using existing WHO standards, pharma companies and their supply chain partners can accelerate the deployment and refinement of cold chain logistics strategies.
Viewing Logistics Visibility Through IoT Technology
It's essential for pharma and logistics companies to invest in the right IoT sensor technology to reliably deliver actionable data to a central location. From there, the data can be shared across the supply chain to create greater supply visibility and data logging transparency for all stakeholders.
COVID-19 vaccines need refrigeration to protect product integrity, as some need to be stored at temperatures as low as minus 70 degrees Celsius. Standards for refrigerated transport have not yet been developed by ISO, although the organization can still provide process audits to evaluate management quality. Certain standards already exist for testing the performance of shipping containers and systems.
Keeping communication channels open with other suppliers is essential to maximize this management strategy. As long as cybersecurity gaps are closed with solid data protection strategies, and suppliers share vital information, the more they can each play a role in contributing to the synergy that leads to improved logistics.
The pandemic has elevated the standards of cold chain management that pharma companies require from logistics firms they hire. Keeping COVID-19 vaccines refrigerated at safe levels has been key to an efficient and successful distribution strategy, which serves as a model for future vaccine shipping.