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COVID-19 Impact and the future of Cold Chain

Most believe that the Covid-19 pandemic will completely change the way we perceive industries and businesses as we know today. With great quantities of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine shipped and to be stored all over the world for the coming months, if not years, many organizations across the medical ecosystem will focus on enhancing their cold chain storage and transportation.

It is no surprise that the cold chain is rapidly growing and marking the beginning of an optimized future for medical distributions. The pharma industry is stepping into a period of sudden acceleration for temperature-controlled drugs. However, the question remains, are we ready to take on this growth? Unless we succeed in implementing an effective and compliant end-to-end cold chain network to mitigate risks of temperature excursions during transit, industries, manufacturers and patient communities will not progress as they should. With rapid growth, comes rapid adaptation and without the necessary providers we will fail to meet the demand.

The recent success in delivering the Covid-19 vaccine is associated with partnerships between government agencies, pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers, as well as third-party logistics providers (3PLs). However, this is only the beginning, as we are still expecting rapid development in the biological market. In consequence, it is crucial that all parties' efforts persist, specifically in these key areas: storage capacity, technology and quality assurance.

The start of the pandemic in 2020, has unveiled the need for improved accessibility to biopharmaceuticals in developing countries worldwide. For instance, the need for mobile ultra-low temperature freezers and dry-ice replenishment locations. While the Covid-19 vaccine was successfully developed, there were concerns shared by McKesson Canada for unusual temperature storage and transportation conditions. The reliance on the cold chain raised equity and social injustices, cold chain related organizations are working hard to provide the necessary logistical and storage capacity to support the demand.

Although storage capacity is of utmost importance, we must not forget the need for technology. With technology and advanced cold chain monitoring solutions, also known as IOT, we are able to deliver transparency and visibility across the supply chain, regardless of the location, transport mode and type of shipments. Transportation and storage with technology-enabled monitoring solutions provide certainties on how the products were handled and if they stayed within their temperature ranges throughout its life cycle. Any disruption in a cold chain cycle could result in product impotency and wastage, from both financial and environmental standpoints. Integrating network communication and other technologies are powerful tools for the cold chain, as it can track and manage temperature data during storage, transportation and use in real-time. Technology is one of the key components to assure the future of the cold chain.

Moreover, having a quality management system (QMS) in place that is independent and supported by a validated platform is critical. With an efficient QMS system, consistency across storage and transportation will be ensured, as it can provide structure to assure that people are trained, processes are documented and are being followed and plans are in place in case of deviations. While most of the drugs today are approved by the FDA and require a regulated cold chain system, not all organizations are complying with these standards. The expansion of good manufacturing practice (GMP) and good distribution practice (GDP) keeps evolving and pharmaceutical, manufacturers, producers, distributors and customers alike will need to ensure that a tightly managed cold chain system is implemented.

At last, organizations in the medical and pharmaceutical sector with inadequate and insufficient resources will fail to supply and fit in this new future of the cold chain. The cold chain is an ever-growing market and we must keep pace with this movement, and consistently operate and deliver quality at every point of all distribution channels. The lives and well-being of patients worldwide rely on the safe arrival of healthcare products. Parties involved in the healthcare and supply chain must continue to be relentless and pursue adaptation to forthcoming changes in the cold chain.

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