With the world now in the midst of the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus continues to have multifaceted, intense, and far-reaching impacts on our societies in terms of lost lives, strained medical systems and disrupted economies. Part of the way we can save lives, protect our societies, and recover quickly is to follow expert guidance of the medical community, which includes physical distancing, wearing masks, keeping rooms well-ventilated, avoiding crowds, and cleaning our hands. One of the most effective pathways to a long-term, sustainable recovery, those same medical experts tell us, is for individuals to get vaccinated against the virus.
With the spread of vaccination campaigns across the globe to combat COVID-19, attention has been increasingly drawn to the importance of keeping this precious medicine at the proper temperature from the time of its manufacture to its delivery to the patient: the “vaccine cold chain.” The storage and transport requirements vary depending on the vaccine, but they all have in common the need for precision temperature control to preserve the vaccines in a usable condition. There are a wide array of temperatures at which different types of vaccines have to be handled, and it frequently involves the use of specialist refrigeration equipment.
Since the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is concerned with refrigerants and the refrigeration sector (both servicing and manufacturing), people working to implement this multilateral environmental agreement are also involved with the refrigeration cold chain in their countries. With the increasing importance of vaccine storage and transportation in the fight against COVID-19, it is important for them to be familiar with how the vaccine cold chain works and how it relates to their national strategies to comply with the Montreal Protocol.
Since the vaccine cold chain may be perplexing to the non-specialist, the International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR) and UNEP OzonAction have teamed up to de-mystify the subject by developing a special Cold Chain Technology Brief on Vaccines. This short publication informs National Ozone Officers, government officials, policymakers, and refrigeration stakeholders about the key aspects of such applications, including temperature control, the variety of vaccine cold chain applications, good operational practices, the different types of refrigerants being used, and challenges related to this sector. The brief is available in English, French, and Spanish languages, and shortly in Russian.
Since the onset of the Montreal Protocol, the refrigeration cold chain has been one of the key consuming sectors in many Article 5 countries. In the context of the Kigali Amendment, all Article 5 Parties (developing countries) will face overlapping commitments during the 2020-2030 period, during which they will need to eliminate the use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) while at the same time starting to control and curb the increase in demand for hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The cold chain sector will be most affected during this challenging period, notably that the majority of commercially-available technologies in most developing countries, either for commercial or industrial uses, still depend on high global warming potential HFCs technologies, which can significantly affect compliance commitments in the medium and long terms.
As part of IIR and UNEP OzonAction’s partnership, a set of Cold Chain Technology Briefs was released over the past few years, which includes in-depth summaries about the cold chain in different key sectors. They include descriptions of technology, refrigerant options and trends and conclude with prospects and challenges. They cover the main cold chain sub-sectors, i.e., Production & Processing, Cold Storage, Transport Refrigeration, Commercial & Domestic, and Fishing Vessels.
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