The news that a vaccine against Covid-19 had been found was welcomed with global relief earlier this autumn. Pfizer and BioNTech announced in November that they had developed a vaccine with a 95% success rate of protecting against the virus, giving people around the world a sense that there might be light at the end of this pandemic tunnel.

News of the Pfizer-BiioNTech breakthrough was swiftly followed by similar announcements by Moderna, and by Oxford/AstraZeneca shortly thereafter. With the Pfizer drug quickly approved by the UK health regulatory body, the new problem to solve became one of logistics.

The Challenge of Transportation

The Pfizer vaccine may have been approved for administration in the UK, but there was another significant hurdle to overcome. The vaccine must be kept at a temperature of -70°C (or -100°F) in order to maintain its effectiveness. Whilst Pfizer itself had developed a special packaging for the vaccine, which uses dry ice as a cooling agent, the distribution of the vaccines clearly requires special attention. The answer has come in the form of “cold chain” logistics, which is already being hailed as the latest great investment prospect.

Cold Chain Transportation: The Next Big Thing

Cold chain logistics uses the latest technology in order to create a seamless, completely trackable delivery process. Big Data is key to successful cold chain distribution. Advances in cloud computing, together with AI and Machine Learning, have transformed businesses’ ability to collate and analyse vast quantities of data and is used in cold chain distribution at the planning level.

Routes are fully analysed in advance, with the software looking at all possible risks or causes of delay, such as bad weather or traffic. This enables the logistics company involved to select the optimum shipment times, equipment and transport method in order to best ensure a seamless delivery process.

The development of IoT (Internet of Things) technology has also transformed the ability of logistics firms to transport temperature-sensitive products. The equipment within the trucks allows for real-time data feeds, including temperature updates, condition of the cargo, and local weather and traffic outlook.

This means that the delivery routes can be updated if necessary, making amendments based on the data received using cloud-based computing power, and staying ahead of any potential delays or disruptions. This data is collected by a deployment of sensors and cameras both inside and outside the truck and the packaging and sent via IoT technology.

The Next Big Thing?

Previous generations of cold chain logistics relied on Bluetooth sensors for collecting temperature and other journey data. With the latest sensors making use of IoT technology, the potential for exploiting cold chain logistics just expanded exponentially. This leap is due to the IoT and cloud computing giving cold chain logistics the ability to analyse and react to data in real-time, every step along the delivery journey.

Icelandic start-up company Controlant is harnessing GSM networks which connect to its IoT sensors to enable real-time data analysis, which can be then viewed via a web or mobile app. The technology has proved so impressive, Controlant has already been signed up to supply Pfizer for its U.S. vaccine roll-out, and work with several U.S. government departments.

Cold chain logistics has certainly taken advantage of the technology developments of recent years, which will transform the industry by saving money lost on wasted cargo, and reducing delivery times. Not only is it is set to be a key player in safe and efficient vaccine delivery, but also opens up more uses of these logistics capabilities worldwide. These new uses include safe distribution of pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, and life sciences materials, and could reduce food wastage in developing countries.

It’s a journey that nobody will want to miss.