Within a matter of months, it appears we have developed an effective vaccine for COVID-19 – a truly incredible accomplishment. With both Pfizer and Moderna announcing that their vaccines have a 95% efficacy rate, the next challenge is making it available to the majority of the world’s population—an almost equally difficult task. But there is one more obstacle to suppressing the coronavirus—getting people to take the vaccine.
Herd immunity will require most people to be inoculated, (the actual percentage being dependent on the effectiveness of the vaccine) with numbers likely in excess of 80% of the population.
Opposing this goal of herd immunity is a baseline suspicion of vaccines, mostly due to misinformation from a now-discredited “scientific” paper out of Britain decades ago. However, even with this paper proven inaccurate, any evidence that the vaccine is not as effective as advertised will play into this distrust – further delaying our objective of containing COVID-19.
The scale of the distribution needed to rapidly vaccinate 80% of the world’s population creates significant risk of compromising the efficacy of the vaccine through mishandling. All vaccines require a well-controlled temperature environment to remain effective. Any deviation from prescribed storage temperatures can damage the product, causing it to lose potency. With Pfizer’s vaccine requiring storage in ultra-low temperatures of -94°F, states and hospitals will have to be prepared to manage cold-chain distribution and ultra-cold storage.
All of this adds up to a need to ensure that the monitoring of storage conditions of vaccines is fool-proof. The current guidelines of utilizing digital data loggers (DDLs) are built around cost-effective tradeoffs between the cost of doing this job absolutely right, and the cost of incurring some damage to the vaccine. These are not appropriate tradeoffs for the COVID-19 vaccine. With not enough supply to meet demand for a long time, we cannot afford to lose any amount of it. Additionally, administering damaged, inefficacious, vaccines to thousands of people who think they are protected, but aren’t, could set back the effort to protect people for years. The good news is these risks are completely avoidable.
The first step to mitigating the risk of having unnoticed temperature excursions is to switch from DDLs to a real-time, continuous temperature monitoring system. With how DDLs operate, there are multiple opportunities for unacceptable temperature deviations to happen. A major pitfall of digital data loggers is the need for it to be physically removed from the storage unit to recover the data that had been collected for the designated time period. This not only suspends monitoring for the time that the temperature monitoring device is removed from the storage unit, but it also means that reactions are based on historical data – things that have already happened.
With a real-time, continuous temperature monitoring device (TMDs), data and temperature recordings will be instantly reported for vaccine managers to view through an easily readable dashboard. The features that these TMDs should have are:
- 24/7 monitoring
- Real-time, remote alerts to notify you immediately in the event of an excursion
- Usability within every environment (hospitals, clinics, mobile clinics, school-based health centers, worksites and during transportation)
- All-inclusive technology, not requiring additional technical infrastructure (servers, routers and other access points)
- Easily scalable and implemented with rapid deployment
With advancements in cloud-based technology, these systems are widely available today. PharmaWatch, along with other companies, specializes in such temperature monitoring systems. With an urgency to get back to living life in a post-COVID economy, those who will be enrolling to be vaccine providers should look past cost-effective methods. In the current scheme of things, price needs to be a non-factor – we need everyone to trust the vaccine, and ensuring that these vaccines are monitored to the best of our abilities will bring us one step closer to getting the population back to living life in a post-COVID economy.
By Ray Sasso, CEO