After the pandemic strike, it was necessary to create a vaccine that could protect us all as quickly as possible to allow us to finally return to the normalcy we knew before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the beginning of the research for a vaccine to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges have been enormous. In the past months, the focus was on science and medicine, but after it was time to shift to the logistical task of distributing vaccines to a global population in a timely and safe manner that preserves their effectiveness. That last part is vital since, as we have learned, the vaccines must be kept in a short temperature window during their journey from the manufacturing plant to a local medical professional.
And when we say cold, we mean very, verycold. When pharmaceutical companies like Moderna announced that their vaccine must be stored at -4°F (-20°C), this came as a potential problem. But if we think that the Moderna vaccine is daunting, then by comparing the requirements of the vaccines supplied by Pfizer and BioNTech, that need to be stored at -94°F (-70°C), a temperature that presents, even more, its own unique set o challenges.
Moreover, there is the scale of the distribution. Even if everything is very well planned and with the highest levels of strategic coordination, the significant distances and a massive number of doses involved mean that maintaining and documenting the transport conditions of the vaccines takes on even greater importance.
Delivering vaccines at whatever temperatures they require is such a colossal effort that any country and department for Disease Control and Prevention had to update and revise its general operational guidance and best practices for cold storage in light of the current situation.
Besides, more than 39% of vaccines created each year are wasted in developing regions due to infractions and inadequacies that sometimes happen in the cold chain system. This can take between two to seven days to reach any healthcare center, and between this time, vaccines can be lost, stolen, or rendered useless due to rudimentary storage procedures.
Bearing this in mind, how can IoT help with all of these challenges and be the key solution? A cold storage chain is perfect for maintaining or simply keeping a digital eye on temperature-sensitive inventory in which Bluetooth Low Energy sensors can help.
Using the Internet of Things — IoT- it is possible to develop an efficient cold chain monitoring system that monitors the temperature and location of the vaccines. Moreover, it is also possible to monitor using a real-time data solution that addresses many of the challenges in a cold chain system and helps ensure vaccines are properly preserved from transport to injection at the proper temperature.
It is possible to manage these trips on a single platform and share the necessary information with healthcare supervisors via a mobile application. This maintains transparency and monitors vaccines routinely throughout the transportation process. And because the system is automated, the chances of human error or negligence are less likely, as well as losing potential vaccines that have a high cost, helping save time and reducing costs.
You are probably wondering how does this works, right? The monitoring system is based on a sensor network of temperature and humidity sensors and gateways with cellular connectivity. The data from the sensors are scanned by the gateways and sent to the cloud, becoming instantly available for the user.
Since the system is designed for hard-to-reach areas, devices can store the data locally in case of connectivity issues. When internet connectivity is available again, the information is uploaded to the cloud, allowing visibility over the entire monitoring period.
If the temperature is above or below the user-defined threshold, a notification can be sent by SMS, email, or third-party tools. The data is also stored locally in an onboard database so that when internet connectivity is available again, the data can be updated on the web page and application.
The system categorizes data by “trips.” It serves two types of users: the healthcare supervisors responsible for creating the trips and monitoring the entire transportation process, and the logistics workers assigned to the individual trips.
Once a journey is created, a healthcare supervisor can check all the necessary details about an individual journey, including the status, route, the type and amount of vaccines being carried, and information about the logistics workers transporting the vaccines. While tracking a trip, the supervisors can monitor the temperature and humidity readings of the vaccine carrier. They are also alerted when temperatures fall beyond the recommended range or if any vaccines have been opened during the transfer process.
In conclusion, with millions of lives lost every year from preventable diseases, continuous monitoring of the transportation and distribution process can ensure life-saving vaccines safely make it to the patients who need them, even in remote and developing areas.