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UK supporting sustainable Covid-19 vaccination cold chain project – Refrigeration and Air Conditioning

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Academic experts from the University of Birmingham are joining counterparts in Bangladesh to research a more efficient means of delivering vaccinations through the country’s cold chain

UK researchers will lead work to tackle the barriers preventing development of a sustainable cold chain infrastructure to deliver any potential vaccines for Covid-19 in countries such as Bangladesh.

Cold chain experts at the University of Birmingham will be working in Bangladesh with local experts and other academic bodies to consider the role of cooling in supporting universal access to vaccines in lower incomes countries.

This focus will build on the institution’s wider cold chain work, notably including a project in Rwanda looking as cooling needed for vaccine distribution. Experts from the university are also involved with a project working with non-profit and commercial organisations in India around the challenges of supplying a Covid-19 vaccine that may be temperature sensitive.

The issue of access to vital treatments is regarded by experts as an ongoing issue in countries such as Bangladesh. Concerns about this issue have been exacerbated by the global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that could require vaccines to be delivered at pace on an unprecedented scale around the world.

According to the University of Birmingham, Bangladesh is home to one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and vaccine industries and has a framework supported by bodies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.  However, the country is among a number of nations viewed as lacking supply capacity to support any ‘fast-track’ mass vaccination that could be required as part of the global response to the ongoing pandemic.

Climate is among the significant challenges facing organisations looking to supply medicines and vaccines in Bangladesh, which is a densely populated country with average summer temperatures of between 30 deg C and 40 deg C from March to May.

The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and BRAC University – also based in the country – will assess existing national cold-chain capacity as part of the project.  Experts will be charged with developing new methods of chilled distribution that can balance a focus on sustainability and energy efficiency with mass usage.

Researchers on the project are expected to look at a range of different means of supporting mass vaccination in the country to allow policy makers in the country to have data and analysis to inform immunisation plans.  These same findings will be made available to other countries to inform their own efforts in introduce more sustainable temperature-controlled supply chains for vital medical purposes.

Professor Farzana Munshi from BRAC University said a core aim for the project was to create policies that can ensure sustainable innovations for the medical supply chain at a regional level for Covid-19 and any other public health emergencies.

Toby Peters, professor of cold economy at the University of Birmingham, added that creating a rapid and efficient means of mass vaccination was vital to public health and the economy across the planet.

He said, “Sustainable cold chain development will support Bangladesh’s economy and help to support existing immunisation and cold chain programmes as well as a COVID-19 vaccine. More importantly, this work will help create a blueprint and model for an efficient delivery mechanism to ensure that the vaccine will be provided globally.”

Christopher Green, a senior clinical lecturer in Infectious Diseases at the University of Birmingham and a lead on urgent public research studies into Covid-19 for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), said that effective distribution of vaccines was a significant global priority.

He said, “Let’s not forget how many lives are already lost each year in resource-poor areas of the world due to vaccine-preventable disease.”

“The development of a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine is of the highest global health priority, but a Covid-19 vaccine will only reach its full potential when matched with a delivery infrastructure that can reach as far as those who need it, and for it to be sustainable for the future needs of the community.”

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