According to the World Health Organisation, more than 50 percent of vaccines that end up getting wasted globally every year take place during distribution, particularly at last-mile delivery. The reason: thermal degradation of these temperature-sensitive vaccines due to poor temperature control. For vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines, to retain their efficacy and potency, it requires robust cold chain equipment, particularly in the last mile of its long and complex journey.
To plug this gap and ensure vaccines are not wasted at last-mile delivery, Manipal-based startupTechnologies is in talks with government officials for the deployment of its solution, Emvolio, which is a portable temperature-regulated carrier for safe last-mile transport of vaccines and other biological products such as blood serums, specimens, and medications.
Blackfrog’s Emvolio is a portable, biomedical grade refrigeration device for safe last-mile delivery of vaccines, both routine and COVID-19 vaccines, as well as other biological products
Already, Emvolio — which replaces the traditional ice boxes that are used in last-mile delivery of vaccines — is being deployed in remote areas in four states across the country — Manipur, Bihar, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu — to ensure vaccines retain their efficacy until they are administered.
This is done by ensuring that the vaccines, both routine and COVID-19 vaccines, are stored and transported at correct conditions in last-mile delivery.
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Safe last-mile delivery of vaccines
The COVID-19 vaccines Covishield and Covaxin are both freeze-sensitive and need to be stored and transported at temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees celsius, and Emvolio — which has been designed in accordance with WHO PQS E003 specifications — ensures strict maintenance of pre-set temperatures for over 12 hours.
The battery-powered device, which has a two-litre capacity, can carry around 30-50 vials, standard for day-long immunisation drives.
Last month, this BIRAC and Tata Trusts-supported startup, in partnership with SELCO Foundation and SVYM Hospital, helped ensure that more than 1580 vaccines administered over a fortnight-long inoculation drive in Mysore were efficacious and completely protected against thermal degradation.
Also in April, the C-CAMP-backed startup, in a move facilitated by the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, received CSR support from the HT Parekh Foundation for the manufacture and dissemination of 100 Emvolio units to deliver vaccines in North East Indian states, such as Assam and Manipur.
These 100 units will be deployed in the month of June, and the Blackfrog team, in collaboration with C-CAMP Bangalore, “…is working relentlessly to ensure these devices reach the far-flung areas of Assam and Manipur,” Blackfrog CEO and Co-founder Mayur Shetty told YourStory.
The team, which is led by two other Co-founders Donson D’Souza and Ashlesh Bhat, are also working on an additional 50 units for Bangalore and Tamil Nadu in another project, he adds.
A healthworker in Manipur using Blackfrog’s Emvolio solution for safe last-mile transport of vaccines and other biologicals
“Beyond that, any large-scale procurement would certainly be through the government of India itself, and we are in talks with officials for this. Covid-19 vaccination is going to go on for a while; it’s not something we will overcome this year or next, so immunisation will go on. But our product and solution has been developed with the support of the government and with taxpayers money, so it’s not just about Covid-19, but about the entirety of the immunisation schedule and ensuring that India’s overall immunisation program is strengthened with our solution,” Mayur says.
The economic burden of vaccine wastage
Indeed, Emvolio was developed by the five-year-old startup Blackfrog to improve the efficiency of immunisation supply chains and ensure a robust, unbroken cold chain system.
The company, with support from the Department of Biotechnology’s BIRAC, Qualcomm, and impact investors such as Social Alpha and Venture Centre, developed the portable, biomedical-grade refrigeration device after conducting extensive qualitative research for over three years.
“We’ve designed it as per the design specifications laid out by the WHO. So it’s easy to use and operates under varied geographic conditions. India is great that way to test any new product because we have everything from deserts to mountains to the coastal regions, so we’ve tested it in almost all geographies. So it is definitely adaptable in multiple setups and with potential to create global impact,” Mayur says.
Emvolio being deployed in Bihar
He notes that Emvolio can solve for the problem of heat in countries like Africa and South Asia, and cold in regions like Eastern Europe where freezing is a problem. From a commercial standpoint, the company is targeting deployment in laboratories and pathology clinical requirements as well.
And yet, the most immediate priority for Blackfrog, Mayur says, is being “a small part of the solution in helping humankind get out of this pandemic slightly faster than we otherwise would have” and reducing the economic burden of vaccine wastage during last-mile delivery.
“There is plenty of evidence on how many vaccines are going to go to waste and the kind of economic burden that the government of India and the rest of the world are going to face because of poor temperature control with ice boxes. So when you look at the bigger picture here, we definitely have the numbers in place to ensure government officials and purchasing authorities understand why larger investment and concerted efforts in this particular area has to be made.”
Watch our full video for more about Blackfrog’s Emvolio solution: