The Cold Chain Solution for COVID-19 Vaccine

Dec 01, 2020

The Cold Chain Solution for COVID-19 Vaccine

Millions of vaccine doses are administered each year to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and through vaccine usage, numerous diseases have been eliminated. In the current condition of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak, many are hoping that the large-scale production and distribution of the vaccine could be the most effective and long-lasting solution in controlling this pandemic.

Generally, vaccine development takes a long process before it can be approved and released in the market. Scientists have implied that developing the COVID-19 vaccine is expected to take years to resolve. Since the identification of SARS-CoV-2 was done within three months of transmission, thorough studies about its biological characteristics are afoot to augment its data which will help to facilitate the vaccine development. COVID-19 cases are still rapidly rising and may exist with human beings for years. Thus, vaccine development is essential to control the spread of the virus. The only way to ensure that the vaccine is both safe and effective is by going through the appropriate drug development and regulatory channels (see figure 1).


Figure 1. Stages of COVID-19 Vaccine Development. Source: World Health Organization

As of 12 November 2020, 48 candidate vaccines are in clinical evaluation and 164 candidate vaccines are in preclinical evaluation (see list for references: Once the vaccine is approved and made available to the public, it must be produced in sufficient quantities to serve a large portion of the world’s population. Continuous safety surveillance and testing should be done to ensure that the vaccine is efficient and maintained its quality.

Developing an effective vaccine is the first step. Then comes the complications regarding transport and delivery. Due to the vaccines' temperature sensitivity, shipment and distribution confront a challenging issue.

Pfizer developed a new vaccine based on a novel technology that uses synthetic mRNA that gives the immune system genetic instructions to identify the virus. The vaccine was found to be 90% effective but needs to be stored at -70°C to -80°C since it is made with genetic materials that may degrade once thawed. This complex requirement of the vaccine became the stumbling block particularly in rural areas and underprivileged countries where resources are tight.


Figure 2. How vaccines are shipped at -80°C. Source: CDC on Vaccine Storage and Handling

The cold chain starts with the cold storage unit at the manufacturing plant. Then it extends to the transport and delivery of the vaccine, proper storage at the provider facility, and ends with the administration of the vaccine to the host. Manufacturers, distributors, public health staff, and health care providers share the responsibility to ensure the vaccine cold chain is maintained from the time vaccines are manufactured until they are administered.

RNA-based vaccines are ideally stored in a -80°C ULT Freezer or a -20°C freezer, while the viral vaccines that contain either inactivated or attenuated viruses require storage temperatures of 2°C to 8°C.


Figure 3. Comparison of Leading COVID-19 Vaccines. Source: Moderna, Pfizer, BioNTech, J&J, Sputnik vaccine (As of 17 November 2020)


Always verify that the cold storage equipment operates efficiently and has all the features necessary to protect the integrity of your vaccines. It should be designed to comply with WHO recommendations and other prerequisites for the storage of viral specimens, extracted RNA and cDNA, and other diagnostic outcomes needed for current and future research.

While hope and optimism are much needed in these trying times, cooperation and transparency are important. Go with the equipment that is qualified to support the COVID-19 vaccine race and its challenges in cold chain management, shipment, and deployment.

Read more articles here: The Lab Cycle Newsletter, 3rd Issue | Esco Scientific


[1] Begum J, Mir N, 2020. Challenges and prospects of COVID-19 vaccine development based on the progress made in SARS and MERS vaccine development.

[2] Dong Y, Wei Y, 2020. A systematic review of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates.

[3] Nuventra Pharma Sciences. 2020. Developing Vaccines for the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).

[4] World Health Organization. 2020. What we know about COVID-19 vaccine development.

[5] World Health Organization. 2020. Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines.

[6] World Economic Forum. 2020. The COVID-19 vaccine challenge you might not have known about.

[7] Financial Times. 2020. Inside BioNTech-Pfizer’s groundbreaking Covid vaccine.