We all got quite an education in 2020. We started thinking about things that had previously barely crossed our minds. And we suddenly learned to value many services and products we used to take for granted. And we were surprised to see events unfold that we had never thought could happen. All these thoughts and experiences gave us a fast-track education on everything from the global economy to the power of the human spirit in 2020.
One of the most important subjects we learned about in 2020 was vaccines. How vaccines are developed, tested, produced, transported, and distributed is not usually a dinner table conversation. But as the global COVID-19 pandemic raged on in 2020, vaccines suddenly took center stage because it quickly became apparent that a vaccine would become the answer to this deadly virus.
Here are some of the big points 2020 taught us about vaccines.
How to develop Vaccines fast
Most vaccines take a decade or more from conception to development, to testing, and officially deemed safe to use. Up until the vaccine push of 2020, four years was the fastest a major vaccine was developed. That record was held by the mumps vaccine developed in the 1960s.
With the coronavirus spreading around the world like wildfire in 2020 and the death toll cresting a million, even record time was too long to wait for a vaccine. The vaccine had to be developed fast. What is the best way to get something done fast? By working together.
The mumps virus was basically developed by one man, Dr. Maurice Hilleman, at one pharmaceutical company, Merck. When the group working on a project is small, it is no wonder it takes a long time. To go faster in 2020, companies, governments, and academic institutions partnered up and worked together to make COVID-19 vaccines faster than the world has ever seen.
Several collaborators worked on several different types of vaccines to get something to the people as fast as possible. Pfizer partnered with the German biotech company BioNTech, Moderna teamed up with the National Institute of Health, and AstraZeneca got together with the University of Oxford to attempt to produce a vaccine. These are just three of the 60-plus vaccines that have been approved or are in current clinical trials around the world.
Proper Vaccine temperature monitoring is critical
When patients receive a vaccine, the process usually involves a healthcare professional walking into the room with a syringe and injecting it in the arm. We don’t see the precise conditions at which that dose of vaccine has to be kept up to the moment that shot is readied for dispatch so the vaccine will be both effective and safe to administer.
This is one of the biggest vaccine learnings to come from 2020. We now know how important it is that most vaccines be kept at cold temperatures. Two of the first COVID-19 vaccines approved in the U.S. fit this bill. The Moderna vaccine needs to be kept at a very chilly – 20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) while the Pfizer vaccine requires a deep freeze at around -70 Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit).
Because temperature is such a big factor in the success or failure of a vaccine, proper temperature monitoring is vital. Companies use internet-connected data loggers to record precise temperatures and report them to a centralized, remote cloud-based monitoring system.
This allows accurate temperature monitoring from a central location and makes it easier to ensure that the vaccine doses are safe and effective and are not compromised. Dickson has a guide covering vaccine temperature best practices so that organizations can avoid a costly loss of vaccine doses.
Figuring out Vaccine prioritization is complicated
In 2020 we learned that deciding who gets the vaccine and when is not easy when everyone needs to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. Even as vaccines are approved and distributed around the world in 2021, it is still difficult for governments to figure out who gets the shot and when.
In the U.S. the Centers for Disease Control has created a set of guidelines about the populations who should get the vaccine first. But the job of actually setting priorities is falling to the states. There is seemingly no question that frontline healthcare workers should get it first. But right after them, it gets more complicated. Even within the healthcare industry, a debate rages about what types of healthcare workers should be next in line after those who work with COVID patients.
The prioritization process gets even more complicated after the healthcare workers and first responders. Most people in charge generally agree on a sliding scale based on age, from oldest to youngest, but who gets bumped up over their age group? People with health issues? Certain races and ethnicities hit hardest by COVID? Teachers? People in big cities who live in close quarters?
These are not easy questions to answer and whatever the powers that decide, there are bound to be people unhappy about the choices. Although COVID-19 vaccines may be the key to getting life back to normal for the entire world, deciding who gets back to normal first is a tough call. 2020 may have been the year we learned about vaccine development; 2021 will seemingly be the year we learn about vaccine administration.
What we learned in 2020 will stick with us for a long time. Many of these lessons are on topics we never wanted to learn about but we did anyway. Other lessons will serve us well in the future. What 2020 taught us about vaccines fits into the second category. The fact that we now know how to develop vaccines through a collaborative effort rapidly is good. The processes we put in place to monitor temperatures and keep vaccines cold will help during the next health crisis. And, what we figure out about vaccine prioritization may set the standard for vaccines in the future.