Why Temperature Is So Important for Vaccine Rollout

Vaccines

Most of the world rarely hopes for the same thing all at once. We all come from different backgrounds and have different wants and needs. This makes it nearly impossible that the majority of the world’s population would all share the same hope at the same time. In 2021, this is happening.

Most of us spent the majority of 2020 stuck inside our homes with little to do. Those that had to venture out every day – the frontline healthcare workers, the first responders, the essential employees – did so with the specter of catching COVID-19 hanging over their head. It was, by all accounts, a very bad year.

At the end of 2020 though, we got some good news. Multiple vaccines were approved and ready to roll out. At the start of 2021, there is finally hope we can see a light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. This is when we all started to hope for the same thing–that the vaccines will help us all get back to normal life.

There is a lot to know about the approved vaccines in 2021. There are several types of vaccines out there and each works in its own way. They also all need to be handled in their own way to ensure their safety and effectiveness. This means that temperature and temperature monitoring are incredibly important aspects of getting the vaccine rolled out this year.

Why Vaccines Need to Be Kept Cold

This simple answer is, because of what’s in them. Depending on what the vaccine is made from, that material may need to be kept cold so it doesn’t break down. This is especially true of the two major vaccines approved in the U.S. at the beginning of 2021. One of these vaccines is created by Pfizer and BioNTech while the other is the product of a collaboration between Moderna and the National Health Institute.

Both these vaccines work by using genetic material known as messenger RNA (mRNA) to help the body develop proteins to fight the virus. This mRNA is a great way to vaccinate the human body against viruses, but it is also very fragile so it must be kept incredibly cold from its creation to the time it is injected into the body.

How to Make Sure Vaccines are Kept Cold

To ensure that these vaccines stay in a deep freeze and stay viable for the person receiving the shot, vaccine doses travel through the cold supply chain, or simply, the cold chain. This is a supply chain made up of containers, vehicles, and storage facilities where precise temperatures can be monitored and maintained. They are very common in regulated industries such as the pharma, food and beverage, and certain precision manufacturing industries. 

The cold chain uses technology to closely monitor temperature conditions in these cases and spaces to ensure the product stays cold throughout the process. Digital data loggers (Dickson has a good explanation of them here) are the primary technology used in the monitoring of temperature for vaccines. The data loggers, or internet-connected sensors, report precise conditions to a cloud-based remote monitoring system where cold chain logistic specialists monitor the temperatures so that the vaccines stay incredibly cold.

The Major Vaccines in 2021

The temperature requirements for the vaccines that are approved around the world are different based on how the vaccine works and what they are made of. Here is a look at these top vaccines and their temperature requirements.

The Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine

The vaccine has proven to be 95% effective in preventing COVID and it is approved in the U.S. and other countries such as Germany, Argentina, and Brazil. The vaccine requires two doses, given 21 days apart to become effective.

It is an mRNA vaccine that must be kept in an incredibly deep freeze to remain effective. It must be stored at 70 Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit). To use it, the vaccine must be thawed and diluted with saline. The vaccine must be delivered to a patient within six hours after it is diluted.

Moderna-NIH Vaccine

This is also an mRNA vaccine but the temperature requirements are not quite as extreme as the Pfizer version. This vaccine can be stored for up to six months at -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) or up to 30 days with standard refrigeration. The vaccine must also be thawed before use and after the two injections, given 28 days apart, the vaccine is 94.5% effective. It is approved in the U.S., throughout the EU, and in places like Canada, Qatar, and South Korea.

Sputnik V Vaccine

The Gamaleya Research Institute in Russia developed this vaccine and it is now approved there as well as in places like Belarus, Serbia, and Algeria. The vaccine is 91.4% effective. It is an adenovirus-based vaccine that uses double-stranded DNA as the active genetic material as opposed to mRNA. DNA is stronger than RNA which means these vaccines only need to be frozen, or refrigerated in some cases, to maintain their effectiveness. This vaccine is given in two doses but the second dose is a slightly different formula to avoid the body rejecting it. 

Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine

This is another adenovirus-based vaccine that uses DNA. It also only requires normal refrigerated temperatures for storage for up to six months. It is currently approved in places such as the UK, India, and Mexico. The vaccine has actually proved more effective (90% as opposed to 62%) when patients are given a half dose with the first injection and a full dose four weeks later.

Conclusion

The vaccines above represent four of the dozens of vaccine projects that are going on in 2021. In addition to looking for the most effective vaccine option, scientists and researchers are also looking for ones that will be shelf-stable at room temperature to make the mass rollout easier. For now, cold, frozen, or deep-frozen vaccines are the order of the day along with the cold chain and the environmental monitoring technology that goes along with it. With this tech in place, all these vaccines should be able to roll out in a timely manner. The whole world is hoping for it.

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