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Portable Ultra Low Temperature Freezers – Helping the COVID fight in remote areas

Ensuring the smooth rollout of the new COVID-19 vaccine requires the global community to consider supply chain forces at an unprecedented level and huge advances have been made in a relatively short amount of time.

When countries have not had ample vaccination programs in place or lack the infrastructure to distribute materials, sometimes we must think creatively.

The Pfizer vaccine, for example, needs ultra-low storage temperatures which has driven innovation and required an upscaling of production to meet the global demand, with dry ice companies and freezer manufacturers adapting to maintain the cold chain of vital products.

The Cold Chain

Preserving and extending the shelf life of temperature-sensitive products is the priority of the cold chain.

Usually this is achieved by packing and insulating vaccines for transportation ensuring the correct conditions to meet rigorous protocols. If the support packages are exposed to heat it may lose its efficacy and so maintaining a continual chain of temperature-controlled distribution is essential.

Using dry ice storage is potentially risky as it can damage the viability of invaluable vaccines and standard compressor based ULT freezers are too cumbersome for deployment in remote settings. Therefore, a reliable temperature-sensitive tool is needed in order to safely preserve vaccines to the clinical point of care. This is a global challenge that requires thinking creatively to find a solution that can deploy the roll-out anywhere in the world.

Both vaccines need specific storage temperatures Pfizer-BioNTech between -60ºC to -80ºC and Moderna between -25°C and -15°C, and so this has created the need to navigate some new logistical challenges to ensure that there is minimum spoilage of this precious vaccine.

City centres with major hospitals use large freezers to store tens of thousands of vaccine doses at -180 degrees celsius. However, for smaller rural communities and remote areas this solution will not work in every situation. Meeting this challenge head on requires the right tools, but breakthroughs in cooling technology can now provide enough flexibility to these deployment obstacles.

To meet today’s unprecedented challenge in healthcare and the COVID 19 vaccine cold chain, we could use the unique properties of a Portable ULT freezer.

So, what does our portable ULT freezer need?

  • Our portable ULT freezer will need to use a cooling technology that can survive the transit between locations and have a shock-proof design suitable for field work.
  • Our portable ULT freezer will need to maintain tight temperature control to prevent the vaccine from fluctuations which render it useless.
  • Our portable ULT freezer must have multiple power options so cold storage units with universal power and voltage (i.e., that can connect directly to 110V or 220V outlets) can be utilised worldwide without requiring additional modifications.
  • Choosing a portable freezer that is brownout tolerant like the ULT25NEU allows the unit to be charged up with juice from a 12V car battery. This could be useful on aid projects which transport vaccines between locations.
  • Our portable ULT freezer will need a hefty battery capacity to provide off grid power in areas out in the field where back-up power is the only option.
  • Our portable ULT freezer will need to be simple to transport so units like this will need to have a remarkably small footprint and be lightweight (21 kg) enough to carry by vaccination teams whilst not sacrificing performance.

Ultra-low temperature portable freezers are a strong choice for protecting vulnerable members of society and frontline staff and vaccination teams. Because traditional ULT freezers are impractically bulky for conditions beyond the laboratory, portable units are required to extend the supplies to remote areas.

By helping to move vaccines from central repositories to those in care homes and rural communities, portable freezers can sustain the ULT cold chain until the point of care.

These units can store up to 1,400 vials (8,400 doses) of Pfizer vaccine and 540 vials (5,400 doses) of Moderna vaccine so are an ideal option for transporting vaccines swiftly between hospital sites and healthcare facilities.

Units like the portable ULT freezer from Stirling Ultracold now have an impressive “SenseAnywhere” temperature logger which enables remote monitoring using WiFi and cloud software to accurately monitor the safe storage of vital medical supplies.

This can be vital in operations occurring in sunnier climes, where extra care is needed to ensure the ultra-low materials are suitably maintained. For example, when the Puerto Rican State Department considered the assets they needed to roll out the Coronavirus vaccination programme safely under heated conditions, opted to equip themselves with these novel devices.

Whereas more traditional dry ice and liquid nitrogen methods were unsuitable (and with the significant supply chain challenge and further requirements in staffing and PPE) the portable units were used as a reliable way of transporting the vaccine.

“We are about to reach the final hour for this vaccination and are doing everything in our power to get the vaccine to communities around the world.” Major General Jose J. Reyes at the Puerto Rico National Guard

“We are very aware of the challenges associated with last mile delivery and can rest easy knowing we have the ULT infrastructure in place to support the historic global COVID-19 vaccination.”

The National Guard in Puerto Rico now plans to utilise upright freezers as a central hub on the island to provide a repository of cooling units. Whereas undercounter models can be used for established vaccination centres, portable ULTs can help transport vaccine materials across the entire island for use in implementing the vaccine rollout.

“The approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has given everyone a glimpse of hope that relief is on the way,” said Major General Jose J. Reyes at the Puerto Rico National Guard.

Hard struck communities cannot afford to lose shipments of vaccine so limiting any exposure the vaccines may have to ambient conditions is essential.

This case study can provide a blueprint for further endeavours as it highlights the obstacles faced during the hand-off points in the supply chain until it can be administered to the patient.

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