Improving vaccine cold chain integrity with IoT analytics through SAS and NC Collaboratory partnership

Analysis of sensor data from vaccine storage freezer minimizes waste and promises efficient vaccine delivery to underserved communities

The US Centers for Disease Control claims vaccine storage and transport issues are responsible for nearly 10% of the 65 million COVID-19 vaccine doses wasted in the US the past two years. To address this vaccine logistics challenge, the North Carolina Collaboratory and analytics leader SAS are using IoT analytics and sensor data from vaccine storage freezers to strengthen cold chain integrity and improve dosage delivery, particularly to underserved and rural communities.

Established by the state legislature in 2016 and headquartered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the NC Collaboratory is a research and policy organization that taps into the resources and expertise of all 17 institutions of the University of North Carolina System. Among these institutions are several historically minority-serving institutions and remote campuses that host ultra-low temperature freezers that support more equitable vaccine distribution to underserved communities. The NC Collaboratory provided 63 freezers across the state, with a capacity of 9.3 million vaccine doses, nearly enough for every person in the state.

The NC Collaboratory turned to SAS® Analytics for IoT and Microsoft Azure to select, transform and operationalize data -- without coding -- from sensors across 10 freezer locations at universities, in addition to third-party public health data. The project monitored the impact of factors including temperature, humidity, vibration during transport, opening and closing, duration in storage and freezer capacity, while tapping predictive insights and intelligent alerting capabilities to identify and address potential dosage loss and regional vaccine shortages.

“COVID-19 created the largest and most complex medical logistics program in modern history,” said Jeff Warren, Executive Director of the NC Collaboratory. “One of the most formidable challenges has been to protect supply chain integrity as vaccines are transported and stored from manufacturers to administration sites – particularly those in hard-to-reach, underserved communities. Our project with SAS demonstrated how IoT analytics and technologies can be a game changer in getting more vaccines to more people.”

Key pilot program achievements demonstrated included:

  • Temperature threshold monitoring that examines temperature trends that indicate deteriorating freezer conditions and generates proactive alerts predicting the time remaining before temperature threshold is reached, preventing vaccine waste and ensuring vaccine viability.
  • Freezer capacity alerting that provides intelligent alerts when vaccine supply is insufficient relative to virus spread in an area and offers recommendations for proactively reallocating supply to meet demand.

Supply chain expert Rob Handfield, Executive Director of North Carolina State University’s Supply Chain Resource Cooperative, has advised SAS on its cold chain IoT efforts. “With a cold supply chain, you must constantly maintain very low temperatures, as vaccines that exceed the limit begin to deteriorate in just five hours,” said Handfield. “The SAS approach seeks to create visibility and prediction into what is today a black box in the cold chain, helping logistics managers identify potential points of failure and proactively minimize vaccine loss.”

SAS Analytics for IoT is being used to tackle a variety of global challenges, such as analyzing crop data to deliver higher-quality food, improving energy forecasting to reduce utility bills, and protecting people and property from dangerous flooding.

“This project delivers on the promise of innovation by quickly and efficiently generating value from IoT data using SAS Analytics for IoT -- an award-winning, cloud-native solution that employs AI and streaming capabilities to accelerate the generation of predictive insights,” said Jason Mann, Vice President for Internet of Things at SAS. “I’m proud of our university partnerships, and our focus on applying proven IoT solutions to improve critical outcomes and strengthen the cold chain. This initiative will undoubtedly accelerate the state’s ability to prepare and respond in the face of the next pandemic, variant or deployment of future mRNA vaccines.” 

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Nurse holding vaccine vial

The NC Collaboratory and SAS are using IoT analytics and sensor data from vaccine storage freezers to strengthen cold chain integrity