Vaccine Deployment a Challenge to Supply Chain

Deployment of COVID-19 vaccines around the country will challenge New Zealand’s cold chain network on a scale rarely experienced before.

The process of sourcing and approving vaccines is in the hands of the Ministry of Health but the transportation and tracking of the vaccines from point of entry into the country to final administration at medical centres will fall to multiple other entities.

Complexity enters the equation because of the need for a consistent and seamless cold chain of transportation and storage logistics. Close monitoring and supportive supervision to ensure that the potency of the vaccines is maintained, and all regions effectively serviced to meet demand in as quick a time as possible will be essential.

Inventory management and constant checks on distribution and usage of delivered vaccines will be a necessary part of the supply chain package. Experience overseas has seen vaccine wastage when this process breaks down.

The fact that New Zealand has experienced transport operators with a high level of skill in the necessities of planning and delivery is a major plus for the exercise to be carried out, but in this case, the attention of central planners will be focussed on the temperature range, for the cold chain varies per vaccine.

Most are provided in a vial with a targeted temperature range of two degrees to eight degrees Celsius during distribution. Keeping the temperatures in this range from successful distribution at port arrival through warehousing and delivery at regional and local levels poses a significant challenge.

Bruce Kohn

This is no time for what the digital world calls “dumb” loggers. Simple track and trace with warnings after arrival at the centre for administering the vaccine does not cut it. Solutions exist such as Roambee for real-time track and trace with the add-on of regular progress reporting, in minute blocks, of temperature and tilt and security monitoring from packaging arrival to the final destination at the administering medical centre.

This system is in use by a major Kiwi meat exporting company for the transport of perishable products and widely used internationally for temperature-sensitive cargoes. Vial level tracking can be added to the mix with special tag identifiers.

All this can be monitored at central locations, giving Government managers the opportunity to keep track on an hour-by-hour basis of the progress of the vaccine roll-out. Vial level tracking has the capacity to permit a validity check of the non-contaminated vaccines through tag scanning done by those with responsibility for administering the vaccine at local or regional levels.

Illustrative of the need for real-time monitoring is an example in Finland when during distribution from a regional medical centre to a local hospital it was found at the hospital that the vaccine vials had been compromised. Suspicion fell on the transport used and placement of the vaccine package too close to a heater in the vehicle.

A combination of real-time monitoring and attention to the alerts that the system provides, combined with efficient transportation, appears to be the key to delivering the vaccines in line with public expectations.

Written by Bruce Kohn, partner, Kaptura Limited