We spoke with Tony Cecchin, Vice President and General Manager of Global Supplies at Zebra Technologies and President of Temptime Corporation, and Chris Caulfield, Vice President of Temptime Operations about their work supporting front-line workers and easing the shipment of medical products through the supply chain
In February 2019, Zebra Technologies acquired Temptime, which makes and provides temperature monitoring technology, primarily in the vaccine sector, at both a vial and a container level. Temptime has been doing this for nearly 30 years, shipping over nine billion vaccine vial monitors (VVMs) globally, thus demonstrating its capability to support mass vaccination sites through the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we get real insights into the complex science involved in the preservation and transportation that goes on behind-the-scenes before a vaccine reaches a patient.
Q: Temptime offers several different products for temperature-sensitive vaccines, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices. Can you tell us more about these and the technology behind them?
Tony: “When Chris and I discuss our VVMs, we are talking about our light-to-dark colour changing technology that is applied to vials, ampules, and squeezable tubes. Temptime has been doing this in support of global vaccination campaigns with large NGOs such WHO, UNICEF and more, since 1996. It started with the oral polio vaccine, as not everyone knows this, but it is in fact stored and transported frozen, exactly like the Moderna vaccine.
We also offer a dual TransTracker device. This device has the capability to identify both a heat and freeze event. It is a low-cost shipping monitor device that is placed in the packaging and provides a visual signal indicating if there has been a temperature variation during shipping, ensuring they have been held in the manufacturers’ required temperature range. Furthermore, our electronic devices use Bluetooth connectivity to provide all the data information that’s necessary via cloud application to aid data sharing for temperature-sensitive products.”
Chris: “We use organic polymers: colour changing materials that are predictable and are manufactured in high volume. The original products were used as visual indicators in the early 1990s on perishable food products. Temptime participated in a WHO and UNICEF public-private challenge to see if it was possible to miniaturise the traditional pallet and case shipment monitoring devices. Ultimately, Temptime was the only company to meet the performance, size, and price parameters of the challenge. This device became known as the VVM to give a healthcare worker a visual indication as to what’s happening inside the vial. The technology and process by which we make this device is very complex. But at the end of the day, all that complexity in our operation becomes very simple to the healthcare worker. They just look at that square in the VVM centre and if it is darker than the reference ring, they should not use this vial to vaccinate someone. If it is lighter than the reference ring, they can go ahead and administer the vaccine. This has been the operating principle for millions of healthcare workers in the field, particularly in low- and middle-income countries for 25+ years. It is pretty simple to train and to educate people on how to use the VVM.”
Q: What is Zebra’s role in the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out?
Chris: “There are two elements to the rollout. First, is the existing business and the role that we play in vaccine distribution here in the U.S. The selected exclusive distributor of the COVID-19 vaccine purchased by the U.S. government already happens to be one of our customers: a company that we have been selling our TransTracker indicator to, for over a decade. So, as they started to upscale and prepare for the distribution of the vaccine, we also started to scale up our capabilities and make deliveries of those products to the distribution sites. Secondly, because of our business with more than 80 global vaccine manufacturing companies and the fact that the VVM is a critical characteristic for WHO prequalified vaccines, we started early engagements with some of the large vaccine manufacturers who will be providing vaccine to low-and middle-income countries.
From a capacity standpoint, the large numbers of vaccine that people talk about are well within our capabilities. We could manufacture many billions of those VVMS, and we’ve already made multiple millions of TransTracker indicators and have placed them at the distribution site, so we have placed our customers in a position to execute their roles without having to worry about the inventory of temperature monitoring devices.”
Tony: “I think it’s interesting how low- and middle-income countries have been doing this for a long time, and now with that same approach in places like the U.S. and the UK, leaders have to think about when they will open mass vaccination centres. In other countries, it is normal practice but in the U.S. and the UK, it’s very different so it will be interesting to use the same process.”
Q: When transporting and storing COVID-19 vaccines on such a large scale, it is essential that this is done in the proper conditions. What are some of the logistical problems and challenges that need to be overcome when transporting the vaccine across the UK, the EU and North America and Canada?
Tony: “You hear the challenges that people are faced with today: there is a vaccine getting distributed, but why isn’t it getting into the arms of people? The supply and demand areas are not very aligned, and from a logistics perspective, that creates some havoc within the supply chain. While the logistics from the vaccine manufacturer to the destination country are understood, the distribution of a vaccine within a country is complex and varies from country to country due to the government’s processes, procedures and regulations.
We need to provide simple solutions and that is where our VVMs or TransTracker products can help, and we can learn from low-and middle-income countries on best practices during mass vaccination campaigns.
It is all about providing confidence to the recipient by saying, not only am I going to give you this vaccination, but you can see from this visual indicator that it has been maintained and kept in the right temperature range. It is critically important for recipients to feel comfortable.”
Q: What is the importance of the simplicity and easy use of your technology, and how does this help the healthcare professional?
Tony: “It’s always been about how we enable the healthcare professional, that person on the front line – the last person to touch the product before it’s used – with as much useful information as possible before they take action. With Zebra Temptime, we have many different technologies that can be deployed, allowing them to make informed decisions.”
Chris: “Imagine that you are administering the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site. You have four different vaccines at your facility, and each has its own unique set of handling requirements. How do you know that the vaccine you are about to administer has been shipped and stored according to the manufacturer’s requirements? If you had vaccine vial monitoring solutions, you could focus on your job of administering the vaccine and focusing on the patient, rather than worrying about logistical and handling issues.”
Click here for further information about Zebra Temptime – http://connect.zebra.com/vaccinetemp_gb_en
Please note: This is a commercial profile