While we await the first vaccines to either arrive in the country via air, or under licence from local manufactured sources, there remains another obstacle. The so-called cold supply chain that needs to remain intact when delivering the COVID-19 vaccine to all corners of the country.
The temperatures needed for preservation of the vaccine vary, and in some cases need to go well below 0°C. If it is not so, the vaccine will breakdown and become unfit for human use by the time it reaches the patient. While this distribution might be easier for countries like Europe or USA, it may be a mammoth logistical challenge for Africa.
Shipping and cold storage challenges
South Africa has recorded more than 1.4 million coronavirus infections, the highest number on the African continent, and more than 42 000 deaths. To reach the population, vaccine delivery will need to travel from manufacturing facilities, both local and international, to storage and distribution, and onto healthcare facilities countrywide.
Amongst all, the AstraZeneca vaccine is most suitable for countries in the sub-continent as it requires average fridge temperatures of 2°C to 8°C. According to reports, 20mn AstraZeneca vaccines have been secured by the South African government for roll out in the first half of 2021.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, from its point of manufacture to the patient, cannot be removed from a temperature of -70°C more than four times. This is different for the Moderna vaccine, which can be stored for six months at -20°C for shipping and long-term storage, and at standard refrigeration temperatures of 2°C to 8°C for 30 days.
In addition, local vaccine research is underway with the aim of developing a vaccine for the South African strain of COVID-19, which has five new mutations of the Wuhan parent strain. This is seen as a necessity as it is still being ascertained how effective the imported vaccine on the current strain spreading in South Africa.
Temperature-sensitive solutions for cold storage
Labotec has been at the forefront of delivering time- and temperature-sensitive solutions for many years. Its specialists have already explored the best options for the COVID-19 vaccine, and there is a comprehensive strategy available for this.
The strategy includes equipment from the Forma Thermo Scientific range of high-performance freezers and fridges built for pharmaceutical applications, which are ideal for vaccine storage. Elcold freezers from Norway as well as Thermo Scientific and Ebro data loggers for monitoring temperature in-transit or between warehouses are also proposed.
Thermo Scientific QC managed cold storage
These products are designed to support the temperature requirements of pharmaceuticals and vaccine manufacturing, distribution and storage worldwide. This Thermo Scientific range delivers safe and reliable vaccine storage while supporting accreditation and quality management standards.
The cold storage range includes the TSX series high-performance under-counter lab refrigerators with temperature range 2°C to 8°C. For clinical and vaccine storage that requires -20°C to -40°C, Thermo Scientific TSX series high-performance auto defrost freezers are designed with features that support sample protection and sustainability objectives. The Thermo Scientific Forma FDE series ultra-low freezers -80°C are powered by H-drive and feature four upright models, maximising storage capacity from 30 000 up to 60 000 2mL vials.
Elcold freezers meet vaccine challenges
Elcold’s VAC freezer covers the storage requirements of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID vaccines and can operate in wide range from -20° C to -70°C. Their important features include a high capacity and small footprint, quality for price where you will get a top-quality freezer and they are based on complex technology that is tried and tested with similar products in the market for 15 years.
Data loggers for safe transport and storage
An accurate temperature history and continuous monitoring of temperatures are critical to protecting the vaccines. In this instance, dependable data loggers are less costly than replacing wasted vaccines.
Given these cold storage solutions and wherever the eventual source, the collective challenge of safe vaccine delivery to all nine provinces will still need a carefully orchestrated cold chain management plan.