Virus, Vaccine And Viability
Forbes Africa|February - March 2021
Understanding the successful storage, supply chain and distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine and what Africa needs to do to get it right.
Simone Sribrath

THERE WAS PERSONAL DILIGENCE IN conducting the research for this story, as this writer too tested positive for Covid-19 at the end of December, in South Africa, a country that recorded a million coronavirus infections that same week.

Following the story and the world’s quest for an effective cure, this article now focuses on the concomitant issue of vaccine distribution across Africa even as the continent grapples with a deadly second wave of the pandemic.

Different countries have taken different approaches to securing their supply of vaccines. In North Africa, for example, Morocco has secured over 65 million doses, some of which has come from China’s Sinopharm and Britain’s AstraZeneca and Oxford supplies. The country aims to have at least 80% of its population vaccinated with this supply.

South Africa, having joined the COVAX coalition, has secured 20 million doses thus far. The country’s government is using a phased approach with healthcare workers being the first to receive the vaccine, and the continent’s second-largest economy aims to have 60% of the overall population vaccinated to initiate herd immunity.

Other countries look to their alliances with China and Russia to provide vaccine doses. While countries have had to ensure the security of their supply first, other issues around the vaccine are also to be considered which in turn plays a deciding role in the type of Covid-19 vaccine a country needs.

One such issue is storage. The current vaccines that have been approved as a result of their high efficacy rates pose a difficult challenge when it comes to shipping and storage. There are certain conditions that have to be met to ensure that a vaccine is stored successfully and still viable for use after being shipped.

This is where the vaccine cold chain comes in. The cold chain is the network of cold storage facilities that are used through every key stage of the vaccines’ journey; from the manufacturing line to their eventual use in a syringe. Proper storage and handling of vaccines during the cold chain process ensures that no part of the vaccine being transported degrades and becomes unusable for treatment.

Part of the cold chain process is also temperature regulation and includes all equipment and procedures required during the transportation and storage process (see box).

Africa faces a unique challenge in the area of storage. With vaccines requiring resilience in being able to travel across great distances and many facilities, particularly in rural areas not reaching the requirements for long-term storage, certain vaccines have had to be ruled out.

There are enough examples now of businesses and services in this critical area.

iKhaya Automation Solutions is a temperature monitoring specialist based in Pietermaritzburg, a town in the province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. The company has received accreditation from the World Health Organization which is critical in the roll-out and storage of vaccines on the African continent.

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