Vaccine transport is no easy task. They must be kept at a stable low temperature all the way from the factory where they are produced to sprawling cities and small, hard-to-reach villages.
That can mean mountainous regions of Pakistan, war-torn areas of Syria or disaster-stricken towns in Haiti or the Philippines. Road infrastructure may be weak or non-existent; electricity supply could be unreliable.
Problems with the vaccine supply chain are causing substantial numbers of children to miss out on vaccination,
“That has got to change. These supply chain inefficiencies may be contributing to the deaths of 1.5 million children each year from vaccine-preventable diseases, the vast majority in developing countries,” he says.
Dr Berkeley says the economic and social impact of failures in the delivery system is profound. Children die.
Those who survive can be left with debilitating conditions. “Education is often not completed, parents are tipped into poverty, labour productivity remains low and long-term health costs skyrocket,” he says.
Despite the enormous progress in improving access to immunisation which has been seen in the past decade, further advances will not be made – and progress could even be reversed – if gaps in the vaccine supply chains do not improve dramatically.
The GAVI Alliance says harnessing technological innovations – such as radio frequency identification tags and smarter supply chain planning – is the next big challenge for development agencies.
Next year, GAVI will convene a supply chain “Centre of Excellence” of committed global corporations that would provide advice to GAVI on supply chain strategy.
It is hoped that these companies would work with governments and technical specialists to tackle several of the most pressing problems, such as stock monitoring, cold chain breakdowns and poor data quality.
Cash and the value of in-kind contributions made by companies involved in the Centre would be doubled under the GAVI Matching Fund, a matching program for corporations and private foundations.
Meanwhile, a €2 million prize for novel vaccine transport invention, offered by the European Commission, will be awarded in the coming weeks.
Entries from almost 50 finalists are being assessed with the winner expected to be announced by the end of the year.