The critical role of refrigeration in promoting human health is again in the spotlight as the world awaits the arrival of vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early days of the pandemic, the public found new appreciation of the essential role of the HVACR industry in ensuring our food supply chains, grocery stores, and medical facilities operated without interruption. Now, the industry will play a vital role again in ensuring the necessary refrigeration to maintain the integrity and efficacy of vaccines as they are transported and stored.
All segments of the supply chain will be impacted by the unique refrigeration requirements of vaccines. Distributors are building “freezer farms” that are capable of holding millions of doses of frozen COVID-19 vaccines to promptly ship them across the world. Refrigerated transport will be required to safely carry these vaccines at low temperatures. And hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, and pharmacies must carefully store vaccines until they are administered to patients.
Some of the early COVID-19 vaccines that could be released in the coming months require storage at temperatures as low as -80 degrees Celsius (-112 Fahrenheit), requiring ultra-cold freezer technology for distribution and storage. A second potential vaccine may be kept at temperatures around -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit). Yet another can be handled in a chilled, rather than frozen, state. Regardless of the refrigeration requirements, the supply chain will face challenges of distributing the hundreds of millions of doses that will be needed across the globe to stave off the pandemic.
Moreover, cold-chain technologies vary greatly in different countries and regions. It has been reported that over half of vaccines are wasted globally, due in large measure to temperature control. It will be necessary to evaluate each nation’s ability to handle vaccines with varying refrigeration requirements. Otherwise, we risk losing large amounts of valuable product and delaying critical protection from the virus.
Given the pace of medical innovation in response to COVID-19, distribution logistics should not be the weak link in safely delivering and administering these vaccines. Proven, reliable and adequate cold-chain technology is essential to ensuring that all of us receive vaccines to bring this pandemic to an end.
The HVACR industry stands ready to meet the challenge.