Data Loggers & Vaccine Distribution: 5 Things to Know

Vaccination is having a moment. The COVID-19 pandemic represented a confounding crisis, on both a public health and an economic level. Vaccination against the novel, deadly virus seemed like the ideal solution–but at first, it also felt like a pipe dream. Vaccines, we thought, take years to develop.

Responding to this unprecedented crisis, the scientific community and the pharmaceutical industry knocked it out of the park. Using revolutionary technologies, they did what many experts ruled impossible—formulated effective vaccines less than a year after the genome of the novel coronavirus SARS CoV-2 was mapped and made public by scientists.

Not only do the new vaccines represent hope to save lives and reopen the world, they also bode well for a renaissance of vaccines. Now-proven technologies can be leveraged in pursuit of vaccines for viruses that have remained devilishly hard to tame. 

As the world engages in the largest vaccination campaign in human history, data loggers also have a moment and a time to shine. According to this guide from Dickson, data loggers are an important tool for effective vaccine monitoring.

Here are five things to know about the role of data loggers in vaccine distribution.

1. Data Loggers can Help Preserve a Vaccine’s Cold Chain

Three vaccines for COVID-19 have been authorized for emergency use in the US alone — those developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. More may follow in their wake, but all of the vaccines in play have something in common — they all depend on a cold chain to maintain their effectiveness. 

A cold chain means that the temperature of the vaccine is controlled from the factory to the patient’s arm, including every step in between. If exposed to heat — and, for that matter, if exposed to light — the vaccine could lose its potency or even become ineffective altogether.

This has already presented a logistical challenge — the more remote the destination, the harder it is to preserve the cold chain all the way to the end. 

Data loggers play a critical role in confirming the integrity of the cold chain. Properly installed at every stage of the cold chain — the factory, each stopping point, and the transit vehicles (refrigerated trucks), and the vaccination clinic or other endpoint — they can keep a record of the temperature the vaccine was exposed to, to ensure that its potency is maintained at the highest level.

2. Data Loggers Help Vaccine Distributors Respond to Incidents

With billions of people awaiting their vaccination for COVID-19, every dose counts. A fault in the cold chain could set back distribution efforts significantly, keep thousands waiting, and cost lives. 

Faced with this responsibility, it behooves vaccine distributors not to just record data about the cold chain, but to discover potential disruptions in the cold chain before they ruin a shipment of vaccines. If the elevated temperature is detected soon enough, distributors may be able to correct the problem before the batch loses effectiveness.

IoT (Internet of Things) data loggers have made this kind of real-time cold chain monitoring a practical reality. Connected to the internet, IoT devices are able to send data—like push notifications—to other internet-connected devices like smartphones, tablets, and computers. 

This can give vaccine distributors a much-needed early warning that might help them save a vaccine shipment if the cold chain becomes compromised.

3. Data Loggers Help Monitor Vaccine Storage Equipment

Vaccines must be kept in controlled conditions, but the vaccine itself is not the only product in the supply chain that must be monitored to maintain its effectiveness.

Keeping the vaccine under optimal conditions requires sophisticated equipment. In the case of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which must be kept under sub-glacial conditions, powerful refrigerators must be employed to maintain that level of chill.

This specialized machinery must be monitored in terms of its voltage, fluid pressure, and exposure to heat and humidity. While a data logger can reveal temperature conditions inside the equipment, other data loggers may be used to make sure that the machinery itself is operating within normal parameters. 

A spike in voltage or pressure could again provide an early warning that the cold chain is in danger—possibly with an early-enough warning to save the shipment. 

4. Data Loggers Can Be Calibrated to Fit Vaccine Requirements … With Some Caveats

One of the main benefits of digital data loggers is that they can be calibrated for the task at hand. For example, a temperature data logger can be calibrated to record very high temperatures, very low temperatures, or anything in between. 

This matters when it comes to vaccine distribution. In the case of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines, for example, the required conditions vary widely. 

For example, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be stored at temperatures between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius — comparable to a household refrigerator.

The Moderna vaccine, by contrast, must be transported at significantly colder temperatures — between -15 and -25 degrees Celsius.

Most extreme of all, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine must be kept in the vicinity of -70 degrees Celsius — colder than the average temperature in Antarctica, requiring dry ice to effectively chill. 

Digital data loggers can monitor all of these temperature ranges with the proper calibration, but the bigger the range the data logger is set for, the less precise it gets. This is what is known as the resolution of a data logger. The higher the resolution, the more “units” of temperature it can detect. 

For vaccines with a very sensitive window of optimal temperature, the data logger must have sufficient resolution and be calibrated to the proper temperature, or it might miss a critical temperature swing. 

5. Data Loggers can Monitor Vaccine Conditions 24/7

Vaccine transit requires constant vigilance. You can’t take a lunch break, a coffee break, or an overnight break — the conditions must be maintained at all times, or the shipment could be ruined.

Digital data loggers represent a technological triumph in addressing this challenge. Data loggers don’t get tired, don’t need a break to eat or smoke. When properly installed and maintained, they can track the conditions of vaccine shipments all day, every day, from the minute they leave the factory to the minute the dose is administered.In the heroic distribution efforts for the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as future vaccines, digital data loggers have a critical role to play. We can be grateful for their efficacy, and for the improvements to come as industry leaders design better and better data loggers. 

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