An international team of researchers will assess Bangladesh’s cold-chain framework and create a blueprint for delivering mass vaccination for COVID-19 across the Global South.
With a vaccination framework supported by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organisation (WHO), Bangladesh has one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and vaccine industries. However, like many countries, it still lacks the systems to deliver a COVID-19 vaccine at the scale and speed that would be required to meet the unprecedented demand.
The project is supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and led by scientists at the University of Birmingham and Heriot-Watt University. The research team comprises British academics from the two universities, along with their South Asian counterparts at BRAC University and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).
The team will design novel methods and instruments to assess Bangladesh’s current cold-chain capacity.
“Bangladesh is confronted with a difficult challenge of protecting their people and sustaining the economy. Rapid and efficient mass vaccination is the only way forward, making our upcoming work critical – not just for Bangladesh, but many other countries across the Global South,” says Project Developer Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham.
“Sustainable cold-chain development will support Bangladesh’s economy and help to support existing immunisation and cold-chain programs 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.”
The project builds on the University of Birmingham’s work in Rwanda that explores how the country’s cold-chain is used to distribute vaccines. The study runs alongside the university’s work in India with non-profit, commercial and academic partners investigating the challenge of distributing a potentially temperature-sensitive COVID-19 vaccine.
The team will also take the opportunity to align renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions with mass vaccination against COVID-19 and any future viruses.
“Vaccination of COVID-19 will require a new fast-track approach to assess, re-engineer and build out the cold-chain logistics assets,” says Co-Investigator and Professor of BRAC University Farzana Munshi.
“This project will assist policy makers in designing policies on the most sustainable interventions on medical supply chain at regional, national scale for COVID-19 but also other potential future natural disasters and epidemics.”
Universal vaccine access is a major challenge in low-income countries – especially in remote communities – where there is a lack of access to robust refrigerated cooling.
“Let’s not forget how many lives are already lost each year in resource-poor areas of the world due to vaccine-preventable disease,” says Senior Clinical Lecturer in Infectious Diseases at the University of Birmingham, Christopher Green.
“The development of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is of the highest global health priority, but a 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.”
The researchers will be assessing different intervention scenarios for mass COVID-19 vaccination, and provide Bangladesh’s policy makers with proposals that will help to inform the country’s immunisation strategies and priorities.
The research findings will also be made available to other countries in the form of a roadmap and model. The goal is to assist public health planners in evaluating their options for creating sustainable temperature-controlled supply chains for health and medical supplies in epidemics and natural disasters.
“Defeating coronavirus is a truly global endeavour, which is why we’re backing Britain’s scientists and researchers to work with their international counterparts and identify tech solutions to treat and combat this virus around the world,” says UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma.
“The research projects we are backing today will ensure that we equip some of the most vulnerable communities with the resources they need to tackle COVID-19 and build their long-term resilience to respond to future pandemics, making us all safer.”