Dan Shine

When Vaccines Can’t Help: How Supply Chain Failures Undermine Vaccine Advancements – And What’s Being Done About It

In the struggle against infectious disease, breakthroughs in vaccine technology get much of the attention. And rightly so: Novel vaccine technologies promise to reduce or eliminate the threat of some of the world’s deadliest diseases, saving millions of lives.

But there’s a significant downside to these new vaccines: They can require over twice the refrigeration and transport capacity of traditional vaccines, and they can cost up to 50 times more per dose.

This causes a major conundrum for developing countries. They can’t afford to waste expensive new vaccines. But with inadequate supply and logistic systems, waste is often inevitable. With handwritten records, they’re unable to keep track of growing vaccine stock. With unreliable electricity and cooling equipment, they can’t keep fragile new vaccines at the precise temperatures they require. And due to inefficient delivery systems, they can’t get vaccines promptly to the people who need them.

With the life-saving potential of modern vaccines, addressing these problems is more important than ever. And solutions exist, including:

  • Software that tracks immunizations and vaccine stock in real time, making it possible to instantly know how many vaccines have been given and how many more are needed
  • Storage facility upgrades, including cooling systems that maintain steady temperature even when electricity fails
  • Delivery strategies that reduce redundant and inefficient routes, or outsourcing storage and transportation services to private companies

Project Optimize, a collaboration between the WHO and PATH, is focused on making these solutions possible in developing countries. Its goal is to put technological and scientific advances to work to create a vaccine supply chain that is flexible and robust enough to handle an increasingly large and costly portfolio of vaccines. The project is part of the 2020 Global Vision for Vaccine Supply and Logistics Systems, a comprehensive action plan for all stakeholders working on immunization supply and logistics systems.

The William Davidson Institute’s Healthcare Research Initiative is one of several partners working on the project. For WDI, Project Optimize is the latest in a series of collaborations focused on improving and modernizing vaccine supply chains. WDI’s Healthcare Research Initiative was involved in the Decade of Vaccines Collaboration, which led to the development of the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), which was adopted by the World Health Assembly last year. The initiative will soon start new projects that will examine how to improve accountability in vaccine supply chains.

And WDI Senior Research Fellow Prashant Yadav, director of the healthcare initiative, co-authored an article on the critical need to improve vaccine delivery in the coming years. Yadav wrote the article with Oliver Sabot, executive vice president for Global Programs at the Clinton Health Access Initiative and Michel Zaffran, the director of Project Optimize. It appeared in an issue of the “Impact and Innovation” series published by the National Bureau of Asian Research’s Center for Health and Aging.

In the article, Yadav and Sabot called for a “paradigm shift in our approach to the delivery of new and existing vaccines.”

“Maximizing the value we get from every dollar that we invest in immunization, and every vaccine vial that we procure must be an equal priority to expanding coverage and accelerating new vaccine introduction, with the design and execution of delivery systems correspondingly receiving as much attention as the development of new technologies,” the two wrote. “If the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested in vaccine development are to be translated into the desired transformation in disease burden, vaccine delivery systems must themselves be transformed.”

For more information on Project Optimize, the growing challenges of maintaining reliable vaccine supply and logistics systems, and potential solutions for effective and efficient vaccine supply chains, watch the three-minute video below:

Health Care
failure, public health, William Davidson Institute