Sanjay Jain, EVP and Director at Elanpro (Elan Professional Appliances Pvt. Ltd.) has been working in the commercial refrigeration industry for the past 25 years. Sanjay founded Elanpro along with Ranjan Jain and Shashank Joshi and positioned the company amongst top five commercial refrigeration companies in India. Elanpro is one of the largest names for commercial refrigeration in Hospitality, Retail, Beverage and Pharmaceutical Industries.
While the world is struggling to get shackles off and accept the new normal, the healthcare & pharmaceutical industry continues to be the backbone to fasten this process with safety. Putting in enormous amounts of effort trying to beat the odds, scientists across the globe have been focused on developing vaccines in record time. With 64 vaccines in the trial phase and 5 approved for emergency use by WHO, it is now essential to dive into the parameters that define safe and maximum availability of these vaccines to people.
Taking on the challenges head-on, the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry has always been at the frontline of vaccine drives around the world at any given point. From storage units to transportation facilities, vaccines come with a list of their safety standards to ensure minimal to no wastage of the wiles. Deciphering these needs at the earliest, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and IoT (Internet of Things) enabled products and solutions are paving their way to strengthen the ecosystem and are expected to show promising results.
Challenges pertaining to vaccine storage and transportation
- Inadequate Vaccine Storage System
In India, the vaccine storage system has always been a huge concern pertaining wastage of vaccines to a substantial number. Every vaccine comprises of different temperatures and the grave issue that exists in India is inadequate and inefficient vaccine freezer and cold storage available here.
- Inappropriate Transportation System
Every vaccine has a different set of compatibility which needs to be maintained throughout the transportation process. For instance, the intricacies of transporting COVID-19 vaccine roots from the very nature of the said vaccine type. While a traditional vaccine developed for eradicating diseases like polio, influenza, rabies, chickenpox and other use either an inactivated virus or attenuated virus.
Two major factors during vaccine transportation that can jeopardize drug safety are vibration and shock, which can either alter the vaccine chemically or shear off part of the molecule, reducing its efficacy.
Hence, the type of transportation plays an equally important role in minimizing the damage to the vaccines. About 50% of the vaccines are locally or regionally distributed and widely transported via road, making the overland transport system a crucial part of the chain. While it is cost-effective and can reach remote locations, the biggest issue is the maintenance of the temperature and safety of the drug. For the places with improper roads and infrastructure, transportation becomes a grave issue.
Air cargo is also one of the essential parts of any global vaccine drive through its established global time- and temperature-sensitive distribution systems. However, this cannot be attained successfully without proper temperature control mechanisms and a fully trained staff to manage the uploading and offloading of the drugs.
- Environment Control/Logistics
Environmental parameters are critical for any vaccine, as exposing them to incorrect temperature and humidity levels can lead to depleting drug efficiency and efficacy. In the case of COVID-19 Vaccines which are highly temperature sensitive, frequent monitoring of these vaccines is of utmost importance to reduce any vaccine wastage or its efficacy.
- Lack of trained staffs
Vaccine storage and transportation requires a definitive set of skills and manpower to ensure a safe, reliable and efficient vaccine drive. A lack of skilled and trained personnel is one of the crucial aspects that need to be addressed holistically. Hence, proper training, ensuring staffs safety and following mandated requirements for storage facilities and transportation needs be on the list of priorities.
AI and IoT Based Monitoring – The Promising Solution
Understanding the severity of the challenges, the government and private players have scrutinized the ecosystem and are stepping to formulate solutions that will not only have wider prospects but also offer an effective outreach. The adoption towards advanced technology is defining the future of the healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry.
Apropos to the pandemic, the demand for tech-enabled products that possess effectiveness and efficiency has been significantly increased. Therefore, products such as Bio medical freezers, cold chain storage are observing a huge demand. In a country like India, it is humanly not possible to maintain individual cold chain storage. Therefore, with the help of remote-data monitoring devices, cloud management, capturing data from a multitude of sensors aid in real-time decision making. Hence, AI enabled products are the best solutions to ease these issues.
Alongside, highlighting the limitations of the current intelligence system by the experts, the need for a supply chain and inventory management, monitoring of vaccines during the transit, data storage and training of centre has been pointed out quite a few times recently. According to the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry, using technologies like AI and IoT seems to be the most promising which will not only streamline the accessibility but also enhances the automation process so that there is less human intervention. AI and IoT enabled device also allows user to receive a timely alert if there’s any variation in temperature, humidity or pressure.
Benefits of AI and IoT Technologies:
To ensure minimum harm and wastage of the vaccine, blockchain, cloud storage, and technology-enabled tracking and monitoring system based on IoT and AI technology can come in handy, as it allows:
- Monitoring of data in real-time
- Sensors can read temperature and send a system alert in case of any change in temperature
- The vaccination process requires terabytes of data to be processed, managed and stored. In the same context, IoT and AI technology can be of assistance keeping in mind the sensitivity of data
- The technology can also be used for portable devices like portal freezers, which runs on batteries and sends a notification via email and SMS if the temperature variance is observed
- Seamless data capture even during connectivity failure (offline data capturing and sync online)
- Due to automation, temperature of the vaccine can be easily monitored
Though the concerns regarding the technology’s ability to function without any human involvement do put a few questions on the map for its usage, not to forget that it also requires trained personnel to carry out installing of devices. However, the benefits outweigh the negatives. In a scenario where real-time tracking can save millions both in terms of currency and lives, investing in such an efficient system may just prove to be the need of the hour.