Using Sensors to Monitor Cold Chain, Vaccine, and Medical Storage
Though temperature-controlled supply chains have many practical applications, they’re critical for medical facilities and vaccines that require cold-chain distribution and storage. With vaccines, in particular, loss and spoilage must be avoided during transportation and storage. This is true of pharmacies, hospitals, and medical facilities throughout the United States.
Clinic and cold chain managers have two high-level priorities, especially when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines:
- Maintain precise temperature control in vaccine storage units
- Proactive access and security for medical facilities.
Many are turning to a combination of video security, access control, and environmental monitoring to do so. Because most cold chains are distributed across wide areas, encompassing many different touch points, remote monitoring is a must.
How can a security system with IoT smart sensor technology help?
In the context of cold chain monitoring for COVID-19 vaccines, all of the horror stories have already come to light. Perfectly good doses have gone to waste due to storage unit temperature fluctuations or refrigerator failure that went unnoticed. In more extreme cases, bad actors have gained access to storage facilities and compromised entire batches of the vaccine.
To better protect vaccine supply throughout the entire cold chain, managers are turning to video security systems equipped with IoT smart sensor technology. Typically, these systems can be integrated with any existing refrigerator or storage container.
Using advanced IoT smart sensor technology, these systems can protect and secure facilities, keep detailed audit logs for compliance, and send instant alerts when conditions change beyond certain thresholds. This includes strict temperature and humidity control for vaccines and sensitive medical supplies, as well as other temperature-sensitive medical goods (COVID-19 tests and pharmaceutical products, for example).
1. Protect Perishables and Ensure Product Integrity
In a pharmacy, clinic, or lab, especially, many medical supplies are highly perishable and thus require strict quality control. Drug potency, shelf life, and even efficacy can all be directly affected by even slight fluctuations in external environmental factors.
Continuous monitoring can not only keep tabs on temperature and environmental factors, helping to avoid exposure to contaminants or outright spoilage, but help facilities remain compliant with regulatory bodies, such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Integrated door access systems and security cameras can help prevent unauthorized access and tampering.
2. Proactive Protection with an Alert System
Often, damage to sensitive inventory can be mitigated using an instant alert system. For example, a sensor can be configured to alert cold chain or clinic managers immediately via SMS or email if freezer temperature rises too quickly, or if humidity exceeds a certain threshold inside a cold storage unit.
Additionally, instant door entry system alerts can be triggered if a door is left open (or closed, as it were). Together with security cameras, these systems can send alerts about unusual motion or activity in a refrigeration unit, provide visual context for sensor and door-based events, and assist in rapid incident response.
3. Protect Sensitive Areas from Theft
Medical closets and vaccine storage units might also contain valuable equipment. Security vulnerabilities, or coverage gaps, can leave this medical and lab equipment open to theft. Theft can significantly increase supply costs across the board, which can in turn delay the delivery and availability of things like vaccines and therapeutic treatments.
Step one is to secure doors with cameras and an access control system for basic liability and asset protection. Many facilities managers configure their access control systems to send motion-based alerts in case of theft of unlawful entry. They can also review access-based events alongside corresponding video footage to expedite investigations in cases where suspected theft occurs.
4. Resolve Incidents in Real-Time
Throughout cold chain touchpoints, including refrigerated transportation containers and medical storage facilities, incident response is time-sensitive. One of the logistical challenges of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, for example, is the need for ultra-cold refrigeration (between -80°C and -60°C, according to guidelines from the CDC). Any spike in temperature can quickly render entire batches of the vaccine useless.
Certain environmental sensors can quickly send proactive alerts when temperatures begin approaching a predetermined threshold so that facilities managers can respond before any damage occurs. As mentioned, access control systems can send alerts when a storage facility door is held or forced open so the issue can be promptly addressed.
Finally, Person of Interest alerts can be sent when an individual is somewhere they shouldn’t be. In addition, facial recognition and face matching technology can be used to identify all instances where a person or individual appeared (or still appears) in the facility. The system should have the ability to quickly share the video with first responders so they can apprehend the individual as soon as possible.
5. Ensure Compliance and Automate Audit Logs
To help protect patients, staff, and facilities, medicine, medical storage, and the cold chains that support them are all highly regulated. This calls for a security surveillance solution capable of continually meeting evolving security and compliance standards. This includes:
- HIPAA compliance, including the encryption of Protected Health Information (PHI)
- Extensive audit logs that track physical access to storage facilities, including successful and failed log-in attempts
- Real-time environmental sensor data to verify temperature control and air quality
- Real-time visibility into door access events (who entered or tried to enter a restricted area) alongside video footage (and a record of anyone who tried to edit the footage).
- Read-only audit logs
An Integrated Solution for Securing Vaccines and Medical Supplies
Safe, secure medical storage—across any given cold chain—will remain of urgent need, particularly as COVID-19 vaccine distribution accelerates. Yet, this is just one use case of many that require secure, compliant, and scalable cold chain monitoring. A remotely managed, cloud-based solution, one that integrates environmental, video security, and door access control, ought to be a top consideration for the remote management of cold chain, vaccine distribution, and medical storage.