It's hot out there! Keeping vaccine safe
From keeping coronavirus vaccines cold in tropical temperatures to ensuring they reach remote islands, a top drug distributor is gearing up for major challenges in shipping shots across Asia.
Only a few countries in the region, which has generally not been as badly affected by COVID-19 as many parts of the West, have started inoculation drives in earnest.
But campaigns are expected to be ratcheted up in the coming months and distributors will face a major test.
One of Asia’s biggest is Zuellig Pharma, which has about 85 warehouses across the region that can store vaccines at ultra-cold temperatures and a well-developed distribution network.
Of paramount importance is “cold chain storage,” ensuring vaccines are kept at low temperatures while being produced, flown overseas, stored in warehouses and sent to hospitals and doctors’ offices.
“Cold chain storage for vaccines is extremely important first and foremost for patient safety,” said Tom Vanmolkot, the company’s executive vice-president for distribution and client services.
“We cannot administer vaccines that have been outside of the cold chain,” he added, during a visit to their warehouse in Singapore, one of the few Asian countries that has started its inoculation campaign.
This is particularly tricky in countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Cambodia where temperatures are often above 30 degrees Celsius.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius and once thawed for use can be kept at two to eight degrees Celsius for five days.
Meanwhile, US firm Moderna’s shot is stored at minus 20 degrees Celsius and those of Chinese company Sinovac at two to eight degrees.
Zuellig Pharma, which has its regional headquarters in Singapore, has developed special boxes to transport the vaccines and keep them cool. They have fleets of vehicles for transportation and are working with governments to make sure they reach their destinations on time.
But the geography of countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, vast, poor archipelagic nations, make it tough to distribute jabs effectively.