Necessity: The Mother of Invention

The world recently passed the three-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic. There remains a great desire to return to 'the old normal' as we collectively knew it before the virus upturned nearly every aspect of life. As public health emergencies continue to wind down at regional and federal levels, many regulations and policies are starting to recede. However, numerous practices introduced to mitigate risk seem to be with us for the foreseeable future – curbside pickup, masking requirements, and ventilation system improvements, to name a few.

In early 2021, people were clamoring to be vaccinated against COVID, yet the criteria were strict as inventory was limited. Though hardly the case now with newer bivalent vaccines, due to both hesitancy and plentiful supply, it was an all-hands-on-deck effort to safely move vaccines developed under Operation Warp Speed along the last mile to millions of eager people.

As logistics were being planned for how to distribute mRNA vaccines to nursing home residents and healthcare providers as the first recipients, there was much discussion around novel ultra-cold temperature requirements for the therapies. Meanwhile, AeroSafe Global had been manufacturing thermal containers for temperature-sensitive medicines for several years. Though cold chain handling requirements seemed new to laypersons and pundits, it was the precise reason for being for AeroSafe.

Breakthroughs Beget More Breakthroughs

The Greeks are credited with coining the phrase "Necessity is the mother of invention," and COVID is perhaps the greatest illustration of this in modern times. There are countless examples – remote learning platforms, PPE, antigen self-test kits -- of how enterprising individuals and businesses devised new products to mitigate a tremendous threat to society. mRNA vaccines, however, are probably the most significant example of rapid innovation.

The practice of keeping standard childhood vaccines cool during transport, handling, and storage was well-established in the years leading up to COVID. However, the ultra-frozen requirement for COVID vaccines was of great concern given the sheer magnitude of distribution needs – millions of patients, vials, and miles. There was little tolerance for risk during these operations: vaccines that experienced temperature excursions or failures would be discarded, and this could be the difference between life and death.

When Failure is Not an Option

Though AeroSafe had the packaging experience and know-how to help safely transport more than one billion COVID vaccine doses, the necessity again arose and led the company to develop a novel service offering: the cold chain Control Tower. As thermal containers holding hundreds of vaccine doses were reaching pharmacy customers charged with vaccine administration at long-term care facilities, the challenge of restocking critical accessories emerged. Short of time and personnel to handle replenishment of dry ice and supplies (i.e., plastic gloves), pharmacies turned to AeroSafe for assistance.

Though AeroSafe happily accepted the opportunity to further aid the monumental distribution effort, it was important to understand why needs were arising. This was the genesis of Control Tower – a system of predictive modeling, alerts, and interventions to keep critical accessories moving along the supply chain so that vaccine administration was not delayed.

Real-time data feeds to identify problematic scenarios, including weather events, mishandled packages, and damaged containers, enabled the AeroSafe team to intervene. These interventions consisted of multiple actions: sourcing new supplies, calling pharmacies, arranging for the removal of problematic shipments from the supply chain, tracking replacements, and confirming receipt of replacement shipments. During this time, AeroSafe operators made over 4,000 phone calls and sourced more than 2,000 replenishments – all seamless to awaiting pharmacists and long-term care residents at thousands of facilities. This was happening behind the scenes as AeroSafe's protective containers were continuing to safeguard vaccines during transit.

Getting Ready for What's Next

Experience and positive customer feedback have led AeroSafe to a maturation process for its Control Tower capability. Today, the Control Tower service is available for manufacturers and distributors who are interested in better oversight of their supply chains, both upstream and downstream, as well as those concerned with the looming deadline of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA). The Control Tower integrates data around IoT temperature readouts, lane performance, and chain of custody for predictive modeling of events before a container is even packed. These functions enable longer-duration shipping (reducing cost and environmental impact), reduced waste, better patient satisfaction, and enhanced safety.

As direct-to-patient delivery of drugs continues to expand, thanks to a greater decentralization of distribution and trends such as hospital-in-the-home, Control Tower capabilities will become even more pertinent. Just-in-time replenishment of inventory and patient notifications are two processes that Control Tower can readily support. The requisite technologies and data feeds exist, and the service leverages these recent innovations in actionable ways. While sheer necessity led AeroSafe to create Control Tower as a new offering, market drivers now positively reinforce that decision.

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