With COVID vaccines rolling out across the globe, we thought you might like to know exactly how a vaccine makes its way from the manufacturer through distribution and finally, into the hands of professional healthcare workers.
Pharmaceutical companies acquire the necessary raw materials to create their vaccines through their own manufacturing or manufacturing partners. Through numerous calculated steps, they create a formulated bulk vaccine, which is then transported to a filling area and dispersed into glass vials. Once packaged, single-dose and multi-dose vaccines are stored in a cold storage facility as they await transport.
For vaccines that require refrigeration, the temperature must be kept between 2 to 8 degrees Celsius and must be closely monitored from the point of creation all the way through delivery.
To protect the integrity of the vaccine, manufacturers deploy cold-chain capabilities. Cold-chain is how the temperature of perishable products are managed in order to maintain quality and safety from end to end in the distribution process. Cold-chain is used for many things, from ice cream and other frozen foods to a variety of medicines and vaccines.
There are a few different ways of transporting the vaccines while maintaining the proper temperature, but the most common are refrigerated trucks and thermal shippers, packaging that can be loaded with dry ice to maintain recommended storage temperatures for up to 10 days.
To ensure the integrity of the cold storage, manufacturers use GPS-enabled thermal sensors during the shipping process that track the location and temperature of each vaccine shipment across their pre-set routes.
Once the vaccines arrive at their destination, there are three main ways they can be stored. If they are to be used immediately, the vaccines can be moved into a refrigeration unit, which are commonly found in hospitals.
Here, they can be stored at the recommended temperature for five days. Alternatively, the thermal shippers the vaccines arrive in may be used for temporary storage up to 15 days, but the dry ice needs to be replenished every five days. After 15 days in the thermal shipper, the vaccines may be moved into a refrigeration unit for five more days for a total of 20 days of storage.
Lastly, upon arrival, vaccines can be moved into ultra-low temperature freezers, which are commercially available and can extend the shelf life of the vaccine up to six months. Once the vaccine is thawed and stored under the recommended temperature between 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, it cannot be re-frozen and must be used within five days.
Now that you know how the supply chain for the COVID vaccine works, we hope you have a better understanding of how the vaccine makes its way to your town with quality and care.