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By Dr. Ashley Anderson, Chief Medical Officer

Is anyone not tired of the SARS-CoV-2 virus?  When can we get rid of these masks and go back to bars and restaurants?  When can we start to travel? When can we visit our friends and families? Attend graduations, weddings and funerals? How will we get “back to normal”?

While we can slow the spread of the virus so our medical system can handle the most severely ill (that is, if people act responsibly), we all know what we are waiting for.  That’s right, the holy grail of preventive treatment—a safe and effective vaccine. But, will it indeed be the “holy grail?” Unfortunately, probably not. What it will be is one additional tool in a battle that will play out over the coming twelve to eighteen months—and an important one.

Scientists across the globe are working feverishly to find a vaccine, as well as more effective therapeutics to cure those who become infected. According to National Geographic, 150 COVID vaccines are being developed worldwide. The  New York Times states that 44 of these vaccines are being administered to humans in clinical trials, and another 92 preclinical vaccines are  being administered to animals. It may take some time; however, we will most likely have a safe and effective vaccine—eventually.

"When fighting a pandemic that has already taken hundreds of thousands of lives, we must reach deep into our toolkit to find innovative solutions."

So, there’s a vaccine coming, but what then?  In the unlikely event a vaccine proves to be 100% effective, ideally it would be administered to enough people to effectively create herd immunity.  That means that probably somewhere north of 60% of the population would have to be effectively vaccinated, or have developed antibodies due to having had the disease. In addition, we’d have to vaccinate quickly, because we will not know how long immunity lasts.

 

6 Commonly Asked Questions from Healthcare Workers about a COVID-19 Vaccine

 

There are a lot of questions from healthcare providers about the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s dive into some of the most frequently asked questions about how the vaccine will affect patients, our healthcare system, and the course of the pandemic:

1) Will patients be receptive to receiving a vaccine once one is released?

Some, but not nearly enough. Many will refuse to be vaccinated, fearing the possible complications of the vaccine at their age will be greater than those from becoming infected.  It does not help that there has been so much false information circulated about existing vaccines. Convincing patients to be vaccinated will require a rigorous public health educational effort.

2) How are clinical trials being tested on children?

There are currently no clinical trials involving children, and to the best of my knowledge, none are planned.  This means that a vaccine that can be administered to children is a ways off. A New York Times article said it best, “Vaccine developers are keenly aware that children are not simply miniature adults. Their biology is different in ways that may affect the way vaccines work.” We will have to take a proper approach when it comes to a delivering a safe and effective vaccine for children,  which may result in a release date closer to 2022.

3)  How will the vaccine need to be stored within healthcare facility?

How the vaccine will be stored will depend on what vaccine is released to the public. The current front-runners require very cold storage (minus 80 degrees or colder).  This is unprecedented. Most of the ultra-low temperature freezers are in research facilities and not in places where people are typically vaccinated, such as a clinic or local pharmacies.

4) Visibility and control are imperative – the ability to manage recalled medical devices and biologics is already essential, why is it  also important for this vaccine?

The FDA will need to approve any vaccine. Because these vaccines are being developed so rapidly, they will likely be approved under an “Emergency Use Authorization.”  Vaccine development will continue, and we can expect multiple vaccines to be used in this fight.

5) Will this be an ongoing vaccination and something that hospitals have to prepare for annually? Will there be a COVID season?

These are good questions. This virus will be with us for a long time. The key will be to prevent the spread of the virus by reducing the incidence in the population. This will involved multiple strategies:  vaccination, identification through testing, the use of masks, distancing, and effective quarantine. The key will be reducing the R0 (R “naught”) to less than one, so that the number of infected individuals continues to decrease.

6) What is the FDA’s role in approving vaccines?

The FDA will need to approve any vaccine. Because these vaccines are being developed so rapidly, they will likely be approved under an “Emergency Use Authorization.”  Vaccine development will continue, and we can expect multiple vaccines to be used in this fight.

The logistics of vaccine distribution will not be easy. Many of the vaccines are particularly sensitive to degradation if not stored and transported properly.  Maintaining the necessary environmental conditions during transport and storage prior to administration will be challenging. Few medical facilities are equipped with ultra-low temperature freezers. This makes it critically important that once a vaccine is developed it can be distributed to those willing to be vaccinated quickly and effectively. This will place a strain on the medical supply chain like nothing we have experienced before.

 

How the Vaccine Could Impact the Medical Supply Chain

 

Having an efficient and secure supply chain for vaccine distribution is critically important. We must be able to assure public and healthcare professionals that the vaccine has been transported and stored in the proper manner. Any failure in this regard has the potential to create a public relations disaster, further decreasing acceptance of the vaccine.

In addition, based upon human nature and our reaction to scarcity, others will be desperate to acquire the vaccine. This will make the vaccine stores prone to diversion and shrinkage.

Thus, we will be faced with several significant logistical challenges:

  • Securing the vaccine supply chain and avoiding diversion
  • Real time visibility: tracking massive doses of vaccine to make sure stock outs don’t happen and that it’s distributed in a manner that maximizes vaccination rate—right dose, right person, right time.
  • Making sure the vaccine retains its potency and effectiveness
  • Effectively managing expiration and potential recalls of the vaccine

So what can be done to combat the challenges that are inevitable with producing a vaccine so quickly? Technological advances, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), are helping healthcare organizations optimize the way they manage inventory.   RFID, in particular,  is the robust technology that can meet these challenges head-on. By using things like RFID enabled enclosures with secure card access to the tagged products, companies have secured inventory at the point of use. Remote temperature monitoring assures quality control and integrity of the most sensitive of products. Real-time assessment of inventory levels through proprietary software assures adequate supply, as well as the ability to deftly facilitate product recalls.

When fighting a pandemic that has already taken hundreds of thousands of lives, we must reach deep into our toolkit to find innovative solutions. Scientists across the globe have worked tirelessly to develop safe and effective vaccines.  Let’s make sure we invest the thought and resources necessary to make sure those vaccines make their way to the people who need them most.