The World Health Organization estimated in 2005 that 50% of vaccines are wasted worldwide. Today, the challenges are even greater with new types of vaccines, such as mRNA vaccines for COVID-19.
“We’re talking about the introduction of the first vaccines and therapeutics that require very different management from those that came before,” notes Alex Esmon, PhD, SBS general manager, cold storage at Thermo Fisher Scientific.
He predicts that the build-out of cold-chain infrastructure to manufacture, store, and transport COVID-19 vaccines will be kept in use for future waves of the virus.
“We don’t know how long liquid vaccines are going to be needed for,” he says, in an exclusive GEN interview. “If it’s a yearly booster, it’s not pragmatic to walk away from that infrastructure, and there’s more potential to manage therapeutics through the cold chain with it in place.”
He also expects the new cold-chain capacity to be applied to therapeutics, such as cell therapies, which require a diverse range of storage temperatures. “We’re only going to see more of these types of therapeutics and vaccines—given the effectiveness we’ve seen so far,” he adds.
Esmon explains that COVID-19 has placed the bioproduction processes of companies under pressure as they move large quantities of vaccines from production to cold storage. He praises formulation groups, who have been instrumental to optimizing the freezing process and storage conditions for these new therapeutics.
“The first question that comes up is what rate the batches need to be frozen to have the highest possible efficacy,” he says. Companies should choose their storage technology based on these freezing rates, he argues, with high-powered refrigerants like liquid nitrogen best suited for fast freezing. They should also choose technologies that produce repeatable, standardized, and easily documentable results.
Esmon discussed the storage logistics of low-temperature vaccines at a LabRoots seminar on January 12, 2021.