COVID-19 vaccines have begun to be administered by governments around the world, and delivery efforts to end one of the most unprecedented pandemics in history have begun. Soon enough, the world may be able to emerge from the challenges of lockdown and start to figure out what the post-coronavrus era has to offer us.
There are many versions of the vaccine, but all of the ones approved for rollout so far have one thing in common: they need to be stored at extremely low temperatures.
Specifically, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines need to be stored at -94F and -4F respectively to be effective. These frigid conditions are beyond the capabilities of traditional cold chain condition monitoring systems and need special solutions.
Dry ice combined with traditional cold chain storage is the transportation solution that most logistics companies have developed, prompting the logistics industry to start using dry ice data loggers to monitor shipment temperatures, providing pivotal quality assurance.
Here’s how ice loggers will ensure the vaccine is safely transported and stored.
The extreme cold places a lot of stress on condition monitoring sensors. These sensors can be present either inside the vaccine’s dry ice packaging or outside it and need to be certified for cold chain usage. The US government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) offers a clear framework that all sensors must follow.
The body outlines calibration requirements to ensure errors are minimized. Sensors suitable for dry ice shipments usually operate a coin cell lithium battery that can be replaced easily. Crucially, these sensors often support pre-start logging. This means they start tracking data even if they aren’t switched on.
The UK has standards termed EN12830 that are quite similar to the NIST framework. All devices involved in cold chain monitoring are subjected to a battery of tests including error measurement, shock resistance, vulnerability to mechanical vibrations, and influence of ambient temperature.
It’s safe to say that any sensor that passes both these sets of standards is well equipped to deal with the harsh storage environments that the COVID-19 vaccines demand.
While temperature is the primary condition that needs monitoring when the vaccines are transported, other conditions are important as well. Shock, humidity, and light are equally important to determine the status of a shipment. For example, excessive light within the storage unit indicates packages might have been prematurely opened.
Excessive shock can destabilize the way storage boxes are placed within a larger unit and might result in damage to them. Excessive humidity indicates a leak within the cold chain system. Corroborating this with temperature data usually reveals flaws in the storage solution.
Condition monitoring sensors are connected to data loggers that store and transmit data. These data loggers come in many forms. They can be RFID (radio frequency), QR code, USB, or Bluetooth based. RFID is one of the most commonly used technologies, but it has severe flaws.
Typically, an RFID system uses specialized equipment and software to work properly. It’s also vulnerable in conditions where radio waves tend to get knocked around. On the other hand, RFID sensors transmit data automatically to receivers. However, they’re expensive to install.
QR code dry ice loggers are far easier to work with, even if they don’t transmit data automatically. Logistics firm employees can use their smartphones to scan these codes, and data is automatically transmitted to the cloud. As a result, there is no need for special equipment or infrastructure of any kind.
Indeed, QR codes are also resilient in that they can be scanned even if a part of the code is missing or damaged. This isn’t the case with RFID tags that can get damaged and stop transmitting condition related data.
Add all of these advantages together, and it becomes obvious that QR codes are the best solution for data logging.
Data gathering is one thing, but making sense of these data is entirely another.
In the past, companies that gathered data needed cumbersome infrastructure and armies of IT workers to maintain it. These days, with the advent of cloud technology, data is instantly transmitted to powerful analytics software packages that even non-technical executives can use.
With the shipment and data logger automatically connected, companies can set thresholds when monitoring shipments. They can also choose to deliver alerts to designated people if these thresholds are violated. As a result, any adverse conditions can be dealt with swiftly.
Analytics also play an important role in identifying patterns. For example, a company might use two carrier services which both appear to deliver vaccine shipments safely. However, analytics can uncover which carrier skirts closest to thresholds and poses a greater risk for threshold violation. Logistics companies can also create custom reports that automatically update with data from loggers in real-time.
Since users don’t need any technical knowledge, access to insights is democratized, and companies can spot potential risks early.
Minimize Risk and Maximize Value
COVID-19 vaccine shipments are one delivery that a logistics company cannot afford to mishandle. Technology is more than capable of handling the vaccine’s unique demands, and as a result, it’s a matter of time before the world moves past the pandemic.