The cold chain is a process in which products, in this case, specifically pharmaceuticals including vaccines and medicines are transported from a laboratory to hospitals or care facilities so they can be given to patients who require them.

There is a need to ensure that temperature-sensitive biological products are not damaged and are maintained at the desired temperature. The term “cold chain” can refer to either a physical distribution network or the engineering that keeps products cold and safe.

In either case, the aim is to keep perishable goods from deteriorating and at an optimum temperature when being transported from one facility to another.

Read below for challenges and solutions during the development of the cold chain:

Historical Challenges

In 1976, ensuring that vaccines were maintained at the proper temperature from arrival to usage was a difficult task due to a lot of reasons including an absence of appropriate equipment, lack of trained staff capable enough to perform it on a large scale, and much more.

One of the most critical challenges was the lack of energy to refrigerate vaccines and freeze ice packs for transportation. In 1977, over two-thirds of vaccine storage facilities lacked electricity, leaving electric compression refrigerators useless.

A simple solution was to use vaccine storage with icepack freezing in a refrigerator but even with clean fuel and near-constant monitoring, the models available at the time couldn’t keep vaccines cold enough or freeze enough ice packs for transportation of stuff over long distances.

These containers have a short shelf life i.e., the vaccines had to be delivered in insulated containers, including larger boxes for bulk vaccines and hand-carriers for outreach. Their performance was inadequate for the required outreach in a week.


While the vaccine vial monitors fixed one major issue caused by the lack of temperature monitoring, the others still remained. Exactly when and where did the temperature change actually occur? Was it due to faulty equipment or inefficient procedures? How would a doctor know if a vaccine was affected by freezing or not?

The quest of making this process more and more efficient led the researchers to what we now know as Cold Chain Monitoring. In the early 1980s, companies in the United States and Switzerland collectively developed a cold chain monitor (CCM) based on blue wax absorption which was used to track and monitor the vaccine shipments to other countries.

After that, a vaccine vial monitor (VVM) was developed which is basically a sticker that can change its colour based on the highest temperature attained by a vaccine at any time.

The problem of when and why where the temperature change occurred remained there. For that, now we have electronic recorders with remote alarms and recording capabilities to actively use the obtained temperature data for analysis of vaccine and its performance.

21st Century Cold Chain

Although the term ‘vaccine cold chain’ was first introduced in 1976, it has been replaced by a new term ‘supply chain’ for the past few years. The reason for that is the cold storage facilities expanding their services to other temperature and time-sensitive products like medicines.

When it comes to logistics and distribution, both public and private health care have made big changes in the last 25 years: however, the need for improvement is always there.

As transportation costs rise, the need to cut down on supply lines and maximize the use of vehicles grows. As the number of vaccines grows, the immunization portfolio grows, and new target groups emerge, the supply chain design needs to be simplified and made better and efficient for the users and this is where Cold Chain Packing comes in!

Vaccines and medicines are extremely sensitive products to external factors including time and temperature while taking into account the risk factors involved in the whole process. The process demands a lot of expertise and this is why only proven specialists should be trusted with such delicate tasks. 

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