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Equipment and technology are at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, and this is still the case as vaccines are rolled out to the public. From vaccine trays and ready-to-use sterile vials to more sophisticated tech like ultracentrifuges, equipment solutions are proving crucial.
But what exactly are these pieces of equipment, and what role do they play in vaccine development and distribution? Read on to learn more about a few of the key pieces of equipment that are supporting this rollout and discover how they fit into the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain.
Vaccines need robust transportation and storage methods during rollout. If any of the vaccine vials are damaged, lost, or spilled following production and filling, these will need to be replaced. This results in increased costs and delays to the rollout process.
This is where vaccine trays make a big difference for manufacturers and distributors. The trays can be made cheaply using composite materials that retain high levels of strength and durability even after repeated usage, while the simple construction makes them easy for teams to handle. Vaccine trays play a critical role in reducing wastage and other costs during vaccine production and subsequent rollout.
Pharma Filling Machines
Systematic processes are critical to the success of an ongoing rollout on such a broad scale. Manufacturers need to be able to get vaccine doses into vials without delay, accelerating the speed with which these doses can be deployed. At the same time, the vaccines themselves are valuable, and so manufacturing teams must work to eliminate spillages and filling errors.
Pharma filling machines fit this brief perfectly, removing the potential for human error with standardized processes. These filling machines can also conduct fill/finish processes with greater speed and accuracy than human teams would be able to achieve via manual procedures. This leads to greater efficiency for vaccine manufacturers while also reducing their overheads.
Ready-to-Use Sterile Vials
The modern pharma industry is based upon sterile processes and equipment. By sterilizing containers and tools, pharmaceutical producers and distributors can guarantee the safety of their products and reduce the high costs associated with cross-contamination. However, sterilizing vials and other pieces of equipment on an ongoing basis is expensive and inefficient.
Ready-to-use sterile vials are helping to sidestep this problem. The vials are already sterilized and then sealed, preventing any risk of contamination during transit and processing. The seals remain unbroken when the vials are stored, which means they can be used immediately when required. Sterile vials are loaded into vaccine trays or fed into the system, ready to be filled and resealed by the automated machinery. As long as all machinery is kept sterile — and the sterile environment is maintained within the processing facility — there is no danger of contamination or anything else that might ruin a vaccine batch.
There are a number of different vaccines used in inoculation programs across the world, and these vaccines each have their own temperature guidelines for storage and transportation. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, for example, needs to be shipped at a temperature between -90°C and -60°C (-130°F and -76°F). Dry ice is generally used to achieve these temperatures during shipping, but this may not be so feasible for longer-term storage.
This is why refrigeration units are very important during the vaccine rollout. These units allow manufacturing processing teams to have complete control over the environmental conditions for each vaccine batch. A malfunctioning refrigeration unit can cause serious damage to vaccine batches, which can be very costly. Thus, careful management and ongoing maintenance are necessary for all refrigeration and freezer units across the whole production line.
Centrifugal forces are used during the manufacture and development of the vaccine doses. These forces act upon the biological molecules within a solution, separating these molecules according to their relative mass. And in order to apply centrifugal forces with the required intensity, ultracentrifuge technology is necessary.
An ultracentrifuge applies extremely high centrifugal forces to solutions. This allows more effective separation and processing for solutions during vaccine development. In turn, manufacturing teams can develop and produce vaccine batches more quickly and efficiently.
While centrifugal forces are effective in separating biological molecules within the solution, this is only part of the development process for vaccines. Solutions also need to be filtered with a high degree of precision and accuracy, ensuring that the vaccines meet quality control standards.
This may be achieved via membrane filtration, in which the solution passes through small gaps in a membrane in a process known as tangential flow. Depth filtration — or normal flow filtration — may also be used to capture and remove molecules of a certain mass. Traditionally, ultracentrifuges and vaccine filtration devices are used to achieve separation within the solution, and these filtration devices do an important job in the vaccine rollout.
Equipment Is Helping Teams to Achieve More at All Stages of the Vaccine Rollout
From the first stages of vaccine development to manufacture and testing and on to storage and distribution, equipment and technology are critical. Teams and personnel are already doing an excellent job in making sure the world has access to the much-needed vaccines that are spearheading recovery, but their work would become much more difficult without the proper support and provisions.
While vaccines have already been developed — and a significant proportion of the world’s population have already received multiple doses — the battle is not yet over. The arrival of the omicron variant at the end of last year is proof of this. While the third dose of the vaccine seems to be effective in preventing the transmission of omicron, there is still the worry that this may not be the case for future variants. This means vaccine development processes need to continue, and equipment and supplies are also r to support this ongoing process.