shipment of vaccines

The Cold Chain Helping To Vaccinate The World

Why vaccines need temperature controlled transport

Vaccines stored at the wrong temperature can lose their potency. The cool chain helps ensure they arrive at their destination in the best possible condition.

Since the first smallpox vaccine was developed by Edward Jenner in 1798, the vaccine industry has undergone significant growth and developments, and, over the years, support for vaccination has grown exponentially. As a result, effective vaccines have become widely available for a whole host of different illnesses including measles, whooping cough, meningitis, rubella, and polio, which as a result has now been virtually eradicated in many regions around the world.

Thanks to scientific developments, vaccinations are now available to a much wider cohort of people than ever before, and vaccines are regularly transported across the world to help protect our global population from a wide range of infectious diseases.

A complex process

Transporting vaccines over long distances and across borders can however be a complex process. As well as complying with industry regulations and customs requirements, and ensuring you have the right documentation in place, it’s also vital to ensure that the vaccines arrive in the best possible condition.

Vaccines are biological substances and can quickly degrade if they become too hot or too cold at any time. This in turn can negatively affect the effectiveness of the vaccine, or even infect the recipient with the disease the vaccine is trying to prevent. In order to avoid this happening, vaccines need to be transported using temperature controlled transport – and this is where the cool chain comes into play.

What is the cool chain?

To put it simply, the cool chain (or cold chain as it’s sometimes referred to) is a temperature-controlled supply chain which specialises in storing and transporting products that need to be kept at a certain temperature or within a set temperature range (specified as between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius for vaccines). It involves a series of steps designed to maintain the desired temperature, from refrigerated production through to cold storage and distribution via refrigerated freight vehicles.

In the case of vaccines, the cold chain has three key components encompassing transport and storage equipment, trained personnel, and efficient management procedures. The core idea underpinning the concept of the cool chain is that it remains unbroken, thus ensuring that the quality of the product is not compromised at any part of the journey. This is particularly important in the case of vaccinations where a compromised batch could pose a significant risk to public safety and potentially result in serious illness or an outbreak of disease.

Challenges and opportunities

As you might imagine, transporting vaccines via the cool chain is not without its challenges.  When putting a cool chain in place, decisions around packaging, monitoring and choice of transportation need to be taken carefully as failure in any of these areas could have a big impact on the integrity of the product. Equally, any unexpected delays can compromise the cool chain so it’s vital that any suppliers involved in the process take the time to understand local rules, regulations and environmental conditions. This is especially true of developing countries which may have substandard road networks and limited access to power in rural locations.

Having said all that, technological developments mean that the transportation of vaccines is getting easier. Automation and smart technology have had a big impact on how temperature-controlled products are stored, handled and transported.

And as technology continues to develop in this area we can expect the cool chain to become even more effective and reliable, enabling the successful vaccination of millions of people across the globe.