New Vaccines, New Problems

Compared to the 10 or 20-dose containers of 15 years ago, today’s vaccines often come in single or two-dose packages. Although this helps reduce the “rates of wastage,” it also means that more packages of each vaccine are needed, and each requires more cold storage space (and is therefore more expensive). In fact, new vaccines need more than five times the amount of physical space in cold storage, cold space that most developing countries simply do not have.

Most vaccines must be stored between two and eight degrees Celsius, so the proper equipment has to be available at every point through the often convoluted supply chain. In places where electricity is rare, for instance, consistent access to adequate cold boxes is a challenge -- but these cold boxes are an essential prerequisite to providing the birth dose of the Hepatitis B vaccine.

Even for countries with the infrastructure to support the “cold chain,” as it’s called, not only is the installation of that equipment expensive in its own right, the subsequent maintenance requires monitoring systems, trained technicians who are readily available, and the abundant availability of replacement parts. Any breakdowns or failures can easily damage or destroy thousands of dollars’ worth of vaccines.

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Vaccine Shortage Impacts Image

Eliminating Wastage

In some countries, the WHO estimates that 50% of all vaccine doses are wasted. In cases where doses are wasted before the vials are even opened, supply chain issues are usually to blame. Because newer vaccines are more complicated and therefore more expensive to produce, eliminating such waste is more critical than ever.

The WHO is examining specific solutions to address this problem. Standardizing packaging sizes could make transporting and storing the vaccinations much more efficient and cost-effective, and adding barcodes would improve stock management and tracking. Basic internet connection would enable organizations to monitor shipments and inventories, as well as request new products. Meanwhile, streamlining the delivery systems to bypass unnecessary stops would speed up the process, reducing the amount of time orders spend in cold storage. Computerized information systems would similarly expedite order-processing, help synchronize the many disparate parts of the supply chain, and improve communication and data sharing between the dozens of players involved.

Although there is still a long way to go, we are well on our way to developing a dynamic supply chain fit to provide medicine to every man, woman, and child across the globe.


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