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The COVID Vaccine: Logistics on Another Level

Despite the welcome news of a COVID-19 vaccine, there is still a great deal of work to do before enough people have access to the vaccine to create herd immunity. Those in cold chain logistics are springing into action to meet new demand. It is fair to say that this is a vast and unprecedented challenge.

The Scale of the Challenge

With many vaccines requiring refrigeration, and the delivery of refrigerated and frozen food a daily occurrence, one might assume that COVID-19 vaccine distribution simply requires a scale-up of current infrastructure. However, the challenges are greater than many anticipated. The majority of vaccines require temperatures between 2°C and 8°C. Frozen food delivery typically requires temperatures around -20°C. In contrast, a number of the leading COVID-19 vaccines will require ultra-low temperatures, in some cases as low as -80°C. Maintaining these ultra-low temperatures typically requires liquid nitrogen or dry ice. Work is being done to develop effective vaccines that require less trying conditions. Whichever versions of the vaccine become widely used, exceptional efficiency and reliability will be required from the cold chain logistics sector.

While maintaining arctic-winter temperatures is enough of a challenge alone, the difficulty could be exacerbated. Over the past year, many have become accustomed to shortages of products, such as toilet paper and tins of beans. A surprising shortage could threaten the vaccine supply chain. With many working from home, the demand for fuels, such as ethanol, has decreased. Naturally, providers have cut costs and reduced their production. However, CO2 is a key by-product of ethanol production. It is captured and sold on to be used in the carbonation of food and drinks, but it is also used to make dry ice. Dry ice, key in maintaining the low temperatures the vaccines require, is a solid form of CO2. As well as a fall in production, the increase in home food deliveries has seen the demand shoot up. As such, the recent months have seen a worldwide shortage of CO2. The ethanol industry is now on the increase again and CO2 production is on the rise, but the recovery is not yet complete.

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As company director, Jason Webb has a hand in all operations at Electronic Temperature Instruments (ETI). He plays a significant role in product design, how and what they make the company’s products with, and helps establish their key features ahead of taking them to market. Jason has spent the past decade working across the business gaining insight and being taught by other managers whilst also extending his learning on business management and succession planning.
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