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The Economic Cost Of 1oC: Vaccine Storage And The Case Of Pfizer

All vaccines are vulnerable to temperature changes in storage, and the economic cost of getting storage conditions wrong is considerable. A recent case in point is the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, and the tough lessons that can be learned about accuracy within the cold chain. Although this article focuses on the vaccine cold chain, the argument is equally applicable to the food and beverages industry.

The sensitive vaccine

Just like the human body, vaccines are biologically active entities. They are normally composed of water, preservatives, stabilisers, adjuvants, and – most importantly – a small amount of the bacteria or virus that is being immunised against. This fragile and delicate chemistry must be kept in an idle state until it is administered. Increases in temperature will ‘wake-up’ the bacteria or virus, rendering the vaccine unstable and therefore unusable.

No ‘one-size-fits-all’ temperature for vaccines

Each vaccine has its own ideal temperature. A normal range for flu vaccines is 1.6oC to 7.7oC, but Pfizer caused waves in 2020 by releasing an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine that needed to be stored at -70oC. A temperature error at any point in the cold chain – the journey from manufacture to use – renders the vaccine useless. Globally, it is thought that around 50% of the Pfizer vaccine was wasted due to temperature issues.

A staggering economic problem

There are no formal figures about the cost of wasted vaccines, but it is possible to give a rough calculation. Using published data, if each Pfizer dose costs €19.50, and if 3 million doses were made in 2021, the total is €58 billion. If half of these doses were wasted, the cost is €29.25 billion. However, this does not represent the full economic cost of wasted vaccines. The actual figure must be augmented to include productivity loss, transport costs, and – particularly in the case of Pfizer – the very high costs of ultracold storage.

It doesn’t end there…

Expanding the picture further, the environmental cost of storing and wasting 1.5 million vaccines is considerable. Including food and drink, the cold chain is responsible for 20% of global emissions. In a ‘Catch-22’ situation, as rising global temperatures increase demand for cold chains, the problem spirals. The World Economic Forum states that climate change “could wipe off up to 18% of GDP off the worldwide economy by 2050”, in a stark reminder that waste, disease, emissions, and the economy are intricately connected global issues.

Finding a solution

Think-tanks, industry leaders, and innovators are already working hard to tackle challenges within the cold chain. Reducing emissions is a primary area of research, with researchers focusing on developing more sustainable cold storage solutions. Additionally, reducing waste is a primary economic and environmental concern. In the case of vaccines, which frequently have an international journey to make, emissions combined with waste currently amount to a formidable problem. However, there may be a very simple and cost-effective solution.

Temperature monitoring technologies: the secret to reducing waste

Temperature monitoring has the purpose of keeping a quiet eye on vaccine storage conditions. When in a static refrigerator, Alarming Data Loggers such as the Cadmus CTX series will monitor the temperature and release an alarm if a fluctuation occurs, and fridge doors should also be protected by an open-door sensor. When in transit, use a validated cool box equipped with a small, portable data logger can be used to monitor the vaccine. This simple strategy gives 360o insight into the temperature conditions, allowing swift action to be taken if a breach occurs.

What next?

At Signatrol, we offer comprehensive monitoring solutions to protect cold chains and reduce waste. Our products are designed to ensure temperature compliance, even in the most complex and sensitive cold chains. For more information, please contact our technical sales team by calling 01684 299399.  

 

Image Source: Unsplash

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