Since the beginning of 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic, refrigeration has been in strong demand around the world. It has been essential to produce and distribute oxygen in hospitals; to store and distribute both medicines and food; but also to support the increase of data movement caused by working from home amidst the lockdown.
Gérald Cavalier, president of the Science and Technology Council of the International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR), said that 2021 will create a hugely significant additional challenge for industry to ensure global distribution of an array of new vaccines.
Mr Cavalier said that with the first announcement of the availability of vaccines for Covid-19, important questions now need to be answered about how they can be dispensed to billions of people while accounting for the low storage temperatures required.
He said, “This is an unprecedented logistical challenge on a global scale, but also, I would argue, an equally unprecedented refrigeration challenge.”
“When the pharmaceutical firm Pfizer announced the imminent approval and thus availability of its Covid-19 vaccine and stated that its required storage temperatures of −80 deg C, the cold chain, usually overlooked by everyone outside of the cooling industry, suddenly found itself squarely in the spotlight. Now the world is rediscovering the importance of the cold chain and those who are part of it.”
Mr Cavalier noted the existing cold chain is well experienced in delivering vaccines at between 2 deg C to 8 deg C around the world, but this was not necessarily the case for a large-scale roll out of products to be kept below -20 deg C.
He said, “The challenge is unprecedented, but the battle is not lost. For vaccines below −20 deg C, existing and widely used solutions for frozen goods can quickly be duplicated - they are well known, controlled, available and, in some cases, already certified.”
“For products below −80 deg C, the situation is more complex, but not hopeless. Although there is currently no significant storage and transport capacity for thermosensitive products below −80 deg C, technical solutions do exist. As regards storage, the air-source open-cycle refrigeration machines used for refrigeration in tuna warehouses at −60 deg C, for example, can also be used at −80 deg C. They can also be used for cold distribution chambers.”
Nitrogen cryogenic transport units that are used to carry products at −20 deg C are also capable of being used at −80 deg when used with reinforced insulation boxes, according to Mr Cavalier.
He said that dry ice would continue to play an important role in transporting health products at temperatures near to −80 deg C both via air and on land to cooling facilities at labs and hospitals that may have sufficient systems.
Another vital consideration for vaccination plans would be the readjustment of temperatures from the low levels expected of certain Covid-19 vaccines.
Mr Cavalier said, “The temperature-controlled logistics of the global massive vaccination against Covid-19 will be a real challenge, as much for its unprecedented importance as for its technical specificity, as announced by several laboratories.”
“Whether at temperatures below −20 deg C or −80 deg C, for all or part of the chain, new means will have to be put in place with costs significantly higher than typically implemented for vaccine logistics. This is a matter for experts and specialists. The most precise information, particularly concerning temperature requirements, must be made available as soon as possible.”
The article is an excerpt from a feature in January’s RAC Magazine. You can read the full article online here.