By Pawanexh Kohli
A coronavirus vaccine must be available in every remote hamlet and village around the world
The Covid-19 virus shows all indications of disrupting every individual’s life habits.
While social isolation has largely been voluntary so far, fear of the disease is coercing some to ostracise others who may show related symptoms, while others even allocate this coronavirus a nationality.
This pandemic has left everyone focusing on one hope - to ‘dampen the curve’ and buy time, so local healthcare networks can cope with numbers expected. We appear to have no other recourse against this invisible enemy, but to consciously isolate from unnecessary proximity until a vaccine is developed.
The Covid-19 vaccine will be delivered either this year, if testing is fast-tracked, or next year. Depending on how the disease spreads, a conscious decision might be taken to waive some standard trials and safety procedures. It will be a tough risk assessment call.
Nations must ready themselves for the vaccine and plan an extensive delivery mechanism.
The worrisome part is that, even today, the existing vaccination system for well-mapped viruses does not necessarily reach every person in need. This state of affairs needs to be reassessed to ensure the coronavirus vaccine is available in every remote hamlet and village around the world.
Vaccines need to be handled within specified temperature ranges. In all probability, the protocols to follow will be like those for the Influenza vaccine, which must be kept between 2°C and 8°C, while in transport and storage. The problem to consider is whether we can inoculate all eight billion people on the planet? Will the current healthcare network be capable of handling extraordinarily large quantities of the vaccine?
It is not simply a matter of adding capacity of vaccine refrigerators at existing vaccination centres, but possibly creating a different network.
Each pharmaceutical outlet could be enabled to store and inject the vaccine. Doing so, will immediately multiply the delivery points of the vaccine, and avoid crowding existing hospitals and clinics.
A few million individuals can be quickly trained to inoculate and each inoculation will have to be recorded with an extensive database collated. This will require a mobilisation, even exceeding the scale that India executes for its elections.
Existing food cold-chain system has the maximum reach, and may need to allocate specific resources in their network with a minor redesign to designate storage space and transport load for the vaccine. Most importantly, private operators will have to safely process vaccine loads and non-standardised care will be disastrous and training will be needed.
This exercise cannot be left entirely to private enterprise. Responsibility for the Covid-19 vaccination program will fall to governments, with each ensuring that all its citizens are inoculated. Public funds must be allocated and this public service will have to be well planned.
Government offices that deal in cold-chain and healthcare services will need to converge and partner more than they ever have before. Some forethought will be needed to execute this, in a timely and speedy manner, and rapid execution will be the essence for success.
However, for the long run, a more permanent network of infrastructure and people may be developed. New infrastructure must deploy sustainable cooling technologies so we do not compound the problem of unwanted carbon emissions. We have the time to be ambitious and must plan for resilient and sustainable solutions.
We can wish for the rapid development of the Covid-19 vaccine and hope it immunises people against this virus for life. Most importantly, we must plan an efficient delivery mechanism to ensure that the vaccine will be provided to everyone on planet earth.
Pawanexh Kohli, honorary professor of Post-Harvest Logistics, University of Birmingham