MORRIS PLAINS, N.J. — The pharmaceutical industry is facing unprecedented pressure to execute at the highest level as it works to move massive quantities of the COVID-19 vaccine through the supply chain. Vaccine manufacturers, logistics providers, packaging companies and technology providers are collaborating to ensure that precious doses arrive at their destinations as quickly as possible without breaking the cold chain.
Chris Caulfield, vice president of Temptime Operations at Zebra Technologies, says that one of the most difficult parts of managing COVID-19 vaccine distribution is that each of the vaccine formulas has a different stability profile and its own unique storage and handling requirements.
“Even the slightest temperature excursion prior to administration could render an entire vial or batch of doses unusable. Yet, each time cold storage equipment doors are opened, potentially damaging heat can be allowed to enter and elevate the temperature inside,” he notes.
That’s why temperature monitoring technologies, such as Zebra’s electronic data loggers, are becoming so valuable — and vital — to pharmacies and others charged with maintaining the vaccine cold chain.
“Pharmacy personnel must be able to capture and evaluate temperature readings without ever having to open freezers or refrigerators. By installing data loggers inside the storage units, temperatures can be automatically recorded at regular, frequent intervals and transmitted via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi gateways to the right people.”
The data loggers also come equipped with alarm notifications that will alert pharmacy personnel almost instantly if a temperature excursion occurs. This helps to assure those within the chain of custody or at the point of vaccination that the doses being administered have been handled appropriately.
“Pharmacists and health care associates should never have to wonder if their vaccine inventory has been heat compromised. The insight provided by electronic data loggers helps to reduce unnecessary stress and streamline monitoring workflows. It also allows workers to focus on what matters most — providing patients with the best possible experience.”
This is actually why Caulfield believes there has been increased interest in Zebra’s temperature-monitoring solutions in the past year, especially among those in the specialty pharmacy market.
Temptime, which manufacturers temperature monitoring solutions for mission-critical health care applications, was acquired in 2019 by Zebra, a leader in delivering industry-tailored, end-to-end solutions that enable every asset and worker to be visible, connected and fully optimized. Since then, the company has been focused on scaling its solutions to help support the distribution of temperature-sensitive medications. Now that customers are beginning to receive shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine, they’re turning to Zebra to help bolster their monitoring and handling capabilities.
“Typically, it’s best practice to take a multilayered approach to cold chain monitoring when it comes to vaccines and other pharmaceuticals. Technologies such as data loggers should be used for interval-based monitoring of the inventory at a bulk level while it’s inside a transport container or pharmacy freezer, while special temperature-sensing labels should be affixed to each individual item’s packaging for dose-level monitoring.”
However, Caulfield emphasizes that the only way to ensure consistent temperature monitoring of each dose from the first mile through the last is to apply vaccine vial monitors at the point of production.
“It’s mandated in many parts of the world that manufacturers put a temperature-sensing label on each vaccine vial, but not here in the U.S. Therefore, it’s critical that pharmacies and others further down the supply chain utilize electronic data loggers where they can help verify that every vaccine dose is being stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This small investment will go a long way to showing both vaccinators and patients that the cold chain was preserved all the way to the moment of injection.”