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Strengthening the Pharmaceutical Cold Chain from Start to Finish

When the health of people everywhere is at stake, reliable and adaptable cold chain technology is central to success.

All around the world, food and medicine moves through a complex supply chain that includes multiple forms of transport in the journey from manufacturer to consumer. For products that require constant cooling in the process, that part of the supply chain is known as the cold chain.

Over the course of 2020-21, a particular part of the cold chain was under great pressure as governments and health administrators everywhere tried to coordinate the careful distribution of a high-value load – COVID 19 vaccines.

Understanding the pharmaceutical cold chain

Vaccines require very precise temperature control to ensure the product remains stable. And this temperature control needs to be maintained for the entire journey, including during storage and transport from the point of manufacture to the point of use..

Learn more about Thermo King solutions across the cold chain

If there is a break in the cold chain, and a temperature-sensitive product falls outside of the required temperature range, the result could be less effective vaccines or the complete loss of a patient's treament.

“Temperature control plays a critical role in safeguarding medicines,” Karin De Bondt, president of Thermo King America confirms. “In all circumstances, but especially when there is an urgent need for vaccine distribution, we need to be prepared to meet obstacles in the cold chain head-on, and ensure that medication is protected from the moment it leaves the manufacturer to when it arrives to the patient.”

Complex logistics with precious cargo

Safeguarding against breakdowns in the cold chain can quickly become a very complex operation from a logistics standpoint. Take for instance the COVID-19 vaccine, where the pharmaceutical industry was tasked with devising a logistics plan to deliver as many as 15 billion vaccines globally as fast as possible, not knowing exactly where the manufacturing points would be, the volume of doses, or how cold the vaccine would need to be kept.

Initially one COVID-19 vaccine required a constant temperature of -70 degrees Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit)- and that temperature needed to be maintained while the vaccine traveled thousands of miles between manufacturing locations and consolidation facilities, and then on to the final point of administration to a patient at a hospital or clinic. This all had to happen without delay, across multiple touchpoints and with many parties coordinating handoffs.

In all circumstances, but especially when there is an urgent need for vaccine distribution, we need to be prepared to meet obstacles in the cold chain head-on, ensuring that medication is protected from the moment it leaves the manufacturer to when it arrives to the patient.  

Karin De Bondt

President of Thermo King America

Karin De Bondt

Strengthening the chain

And it wasn’t the cold chain we knew. Aside from the stress caused from the vast number of vaccines that needed to be distributed, plans had to be made for non-traditional delivery points, such as mobile clinics, which required precise temperature control and safeguards in multiple formats for transport and storage.

Reliable, temperature-controlled equipment that provides security, traceability and temperature monitoring are critical to cold chain. Thermo King’s end-to-end transport and storage solutions are flexible, adaptable, can scale up and down based on demand and are ideal for products that require ultra-low temperatures. For example, our solutions can reduce the number of times a cooler using dry ice needs to be re-iced or eliminate the need to re-ice altogether. This ultimately helps to increase the distance that these containers can travel, or the time that they can safely remain in storage.

Importance of data

One of the key safeguards to ensure that vaccines remain within the required temperature range is monitoring technology. Using real-time data, pharmaceutical customers and partners can receive alerts if a product has fallen outside of the required temperature range and make immediate adjustments to protect the efficacy of the medicine.

Real-time monitoring capability is especially important with pharmaceutical products, because without it there is no visible indication when a product has deviated from a set temperature. Data can provide confidence that the efficacy and integrity of the product have remained intact, and that the medicine will be safe and effective for patients. Through our Thermo King business, we provide a variety of solutions that can offer temperature control with state-of-the-art telematics for monitoring and traceability.

Learn how real-time data can protect pharmaceutical products

The temperature range is more and more often it's a small temperature range so it's really important to keep the pharmaceuticals and vaccines within that temperature range. And in order to do that, we have to have good equipment, but we also have to have good data about that temperature range making sure that throughout the journey that the pharmaceutical was kept within that range. And more often than not we want that to be real-time so we can be tracking it; we can get alerts to somebody that can do something about it if there's a possibility that there might be an excursion. An excursion is when it goes outside of an acceptable temperature range for too long. So, we want to be able to proactively manage that and prevent those excursions from happening using that data and then using that then to provide confidence that it's been kept within that temperature range throughout its journey. There's no obvious visual indication if a pharmaceutical has gone outside of its temperature range um if uh if a pharmaceutical has had an excursion and it's delivered and there's not awareness of that it might not be effective or might be less effective or even unsafe. You may have patients that get sick or worse and they may erode the trust in future vaccines and pharmaceuticals as well as the companies that provide them so it's important because there's no visual indication to be able to show that that product truly was kept at the right temperature and truly should be effective.

Real people at the end of the cold chain

While the process of getting medicine safely distributed to people around the world is complex and layered, the reason to be successful is very simple. The health of people and communities is at stake – and we are proud our technology is among the end-to-end solutions that make a global cold chain it possible.