Moving temperature-sensitive inventory from one location to another can seem like a daunting task, as there are many things that could go wrong. Vials or containers can break, an accident or setback could cause delays – allowing the vaccines to warm outside of the acceptable range, a cooler could get too cold – potentially harming your vaccines, and the list goes on. Vaccine transport has always taken place in some capacity, but with the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine, it is becoming much more common. Whether you’re trying to get vaccines to your rural clinics, or are sending them to another facility to help them out, proper transportation is essential.
There are a few items that are necessary to make that happen:
- A high-quality cooler
- A real-time monitoring system with cellular capabilities
- Ice packs or dry ice
- A stand for the vaccines
- Bubble wrap
You can’t just use any old cooler to transport vaccines – it needs to have certain characteristics. To start, it must be robustly made. It is best to use a rotomolded cooler. This method yields the most durable and highest quality coolers by producing a consistent thickness in the walls and preventing weak spots.
Second, the cooler needs to be well insulated. Without this aspect, warm air can easily infiltrate the cooler and cause your vaccines to warm beyond the proper temperature range. The best coolers have foam insulation that is at least 2 inches thick and consistent across the entire body. The lid should also be sealed with a rubber gasket. Otherwise, the cooler will not be able to maintain a consistent temperature.
Lastly, size should be taken into account. As a general rule of thumb, smaller is better. A smaller cooler means less air to cool down and keep cool. They are much easier to lift, move around and fit into your means of transportation. Our recommendation for a high-quality cooler that fits each of these parameters without breaking the bank can be found here.
Vaccine Monitoring System Specifications
In addition to finding a proper cooler, employing a monitoring system specific to this purpose is equally important. A monitoring system will help ensure that your vaccines are still viable when they arrive at their location. There are a few things to consider when making this decision. The first, as mentioned above, is the ability to communicate in real-time via cellular. You almost certainly won’t have access to WiFi during the trip and being able to see the temperature data from the entire trip is essential. This is the first step to ensuring your vaccines are safe. You should make sure that the cellular network used is strong and reliable, such as LTE Cat M1, which maintains communication in many areas where standard cell signal is weak or nonexistent.
In the event that the monitoring device does lose connectivity, it needs to be able to backfill all of the data. This brings us to the next requirement – proper reporting. The system you choose should have the capability to produce a report that is customized to your trip. This will allow you to look at the data that was either reported throughout the trip or backfilled, and confidently say that your vaccines are still safe and viable. Something to keep in mind is the battery life of the device. It needs to be long enough to ensure it will have power for the entire trip, and then some in case of delays.
Another feature that is helpful, but not completely necessary, is a display screen. It is likely someone will be with your precious cargo during the journey and having the ability to look at a display and see the exact temperature of the vaccines at any time will help give you peace of mind. The reason this is not entirely necessary is because of the extremely critical alerting function. The system you choose should have the capability to alert your pre-specified contacts right away in the event that something goes wrong, and the temperature begins to trend out of range. A local alarm can be helpful, but in this case, it is best that your monitoring system have the capabilities to send remote alerts to a cell phone or email.
To purchase a monitoring system that meets all of these criteria, click here.
Put It All Together
Now that you have the right cooler and monitoring system, it’s time to put everything together. The first thing you will want to do is pre-cool the cooler to the specified temperature of your vaccines, 24 hours in advance. Ice packs can be used for refrigerator and freezer temperatures, while dry ice should be used for ultra-low temperatures. Use your monitoring system by placing the probe inside the cooler while the cooling takes place to ensure the cooler reaches the proper temperature.
Once the cooler is at the right temperature, remove the ice packs, place the vaccine stand or tray inside with the vaccines inside or on top (you don’t want the vaccines touching the side of the cooler). The vaccines can be wrapped in bubble wrap for better temperature stability. Place ice packs or dry ice on all sides of the vaccines. Next, place the monitoring probe inside the cooler ensuring it is not touching the ice packs or dry ice. Secure with small bubble wrap if necessary. Then place the lid tightly on the cooler and secure the sensor and display to the top of the lid using Velcro. If the trip is long, it can be a good idea to take an extra cooler with more ice packs or dry ice to replace the ones being used if they begin to warm. It is also important not to open the cooler, or to open as little as necessary until the final destination is reached.
In order to help ensure safe vaccine transportation, PharmaWatch has partnered with Cordova Outdoors. Cordova provides coolers that meet all necessary specifications, and paired with PharmaWatch monitoring, it has proven to be a match made in vaccine-heaven. This method has been successfully used for transporting both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines by hospitals and clinics throughout Idaho and neighboring states, but we highly recommend doing at least one test run. Conditions may vary based on the specific materials used, vaccines specifications, and more.