The Vaccine Rollout Has Begun. But How Can We Make Sure It’s Getting to Us Safely?

Tarun Gupta
CPO and Co-Founder
January 26, 2021

We’re all impatiently waiting for the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the news is finally promising on this score: vaccines from multiple companies, including Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, are at various levels of approval and distribution. And vaccinations are underway in dozens of countries.

This is an exciting development given such a highly compressed timeline, and it represents remarkable work by some of the brightest, most determined minds in industry and academia. But it’s also just the first major stop in a much longer journey to get the vaccine to everyone. Setting aside the trial milestones and regulatory hurdles, logistics are the cornerstone to delivering vaccine doses where they need to go: to healthcare providers in every state, every county, and, ultimately, to each of us. 

So, what do those logistical details look like? As technologists who specialize in delivering data-backed insights based on IoT solutions that make machines smart, here’s our quick analysis.

Why is transporting vaccines so tricky?

70 percent of the “top 10 pharmaceuticals in the U.S.” need to be transported as part of temperature-controlled (or cold chain) logistics, where a consistent temperature is maintained at every point in the journey. Factors as varied as “cold air or hot breezes, cold and hot times of day, and intensity of sunlight” can all degrade the efficacy of pharmaceuticals, as can “humidity, vibrations and shock.” In short, pharmaceutical transportation is not for the faint of heart — but it’s definitely for the technology-forward and detail oriented. Vaccine delivery is not just about getting it there in time. It’s about maintaining a consistent and safe environment every mile along the way.

Will the transportation environment be the same for all vaccines?

No. Generally speaking, not all pharmaceuticals are created equal; they require different temperatures, humidity and light levels, customized packaging, and so on. We’ve already seen during the initial COVID vaccine rollout that there are significant differences among the three vaccines; Pfizer’s solution requires storage at a temperature colder than five of the top 10 coldest places on earth: minus 70 degrees Celsius. In contrast, AstraZeneca’s offering can be stored at “two degrees to eight degrees Celsius,” roughly the same temperature range as a consumer-grade refrigerator. So, what may work logistically to transport one vaccine isn’t likely to be the most effective solution for the others. 

We know that vaccines have to be carefully transported — what other factors are at play?

To successfully monitor vaccines in transport, we need always-on connectivity, not broken cell coverage in populated areas. We need to be able to constantly and continuously understand where the vaccines are, and, maybe even more critical, how they are being handled along the entire chain. 90 percent of the globe is still without cell coverage — meaning that the world is largely unconnected, particularly in its most austere, remote and hard-to-reach places. That’s an issue because there must be absolute confidence in the integrity of the vaccine. And that level of certainty only comes from knowing, without question and at every step of the journey, that no fluctuations, anomalies, or other issues occurred that may have compromised the vaccine’s efficacy. You need to be able to track it — and you need technology that flags any issue via real-time alerts and consistent, “always-on” tracking.

How would you solve that particular problem?

Our solution ensures that underlying logistics are safe and effective. News reports confirm the importance of GPS in transporting each and every vaccine. Pfizer, for example, has reported that GPS temperature sensors will be deployed in their specially created “thermal shippers,” which each need 50 pounds of dry ice to maintain the appropriate temperature.

GPS plays a major role in ensuring “chain of custody” of the vaccines, and our end-to-end solution offers an effective way to drive and monitor that entire process. Data that’s recorded from sensors in the cargo and the vehicle itself is communicated through the satellite-based, narrowband Skylo Network to our immersive platform, Skylo Hub. Our always-up, always-accessible connectivity ensures insights at every point for users. 

Ultimately, the successful deployment of multiple COVID-19 vaccines will be a triumph of science, engineering, logistics, technology, and policy cross-collaboration. And it will show the power of an approach that pulls bleeding-edge science and technology all the way through the process to pioneer an unquestionably positive impact.

We are committed to doing the same, we’re excited to help deliver what comes next.

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