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The right vaccine, in the right place, at the right time

Health workers wading through water, carrying immunization equipment.

Project Optimize works to make sure delivery systems are as innovative as the vaccines they support. Photo: M. Dorgabekova.

Over the past decades, the world has invested enormous resources and energy into the development of new and lifesaving vaccines. Current vaccination programs save millions of lives each year, and new, affordable vaccines for diseases affecting people in the world’s poorest countries can protect millions more.

But it’s not just about developing vaccines. It’s also about getting them to the right place, at the right time, in the right condition. And that requires transportation and storage systems—often called “supply chain” systems—that are as advanced and innovative as the vaccines they support.

To make this possible, PATH works with partners to improve supply chain systems. We encourage technological and scientific advances—from more efficient packaging to equipment that regulates temperature more precisely—to help vaccines safely and efficiently reach those who need them. We research and document innovative approaches to common supply chain challenges and share the best ideas. And we use advocacy and education to build the global commitment and consensus to keep making improvements.

Strong systems urgently needed

No vaccine can save a child’s life if it’s lost, damaged in transport or storage, or too expensive to ship in the first place. That’s why strong supply chain systems are so urgently needed.

Many low-resource countries have relied on the same systems to store and transport vaccines for more than 30 years. But as new vaccines arrive on the market, the landscape has changed. New vaccines can cost 100 times more than prior products. And innovations in packaging that protect vaccines and reduce waste often require much more space on trucks and in refrigerators. The supply chain systems in many countries are falling behind, risking expensive delays, unnecessary waste, and vaccine supply shortages.

Project Optimize prioritized supply chains

Project Optimize, a collaborative effort between PATH and the World Health Organization (WHO), is one example of our wide-reaching response to this challenge. From 2007 to 2012, Optimize helped make supply chain issues a global priority.

When Optimize began, leaders in many countries were beginning to realize that supply chain issues were hindering their vaccine programs. Still, the global community wasn’t clear on the magnitude of the problem or how to fix it. There was no consensus on which solutions were affordable and effective—particularly for countries with few resources. Over five years, Optimize:

  • Stimulated innovation. Optimize laid the groundwork to improve vaccine products and equipment, from more appropriate and efficient vaccine packaging to new ways to keep sensitive vaccines at the right temperature during storage and transit. This included helping to develop policies and systems to standardize and evaluate products and approaches. We also collaborated with manufacturers to speed the design, approval, and introduction of new technologies.
  • Demonstrated good ideas. Many countries and suppliers have found effective solutions to supply chain challenges. These insights could be useful to others, but they aren’t always tested or shared. Optimize collaborated with countries to evaluate, share, and test proven technologies and strategies in new contexts to build a stronger evidence base for innovative supply chain technologies, systems, and policies.
  • Coordinated a global response. Optimize made supply chain systems a global priority by catalyzing new ideas, planning, and awareness. The project brought people from across sectors and countries together to identify challenges and priorities and create a vision for the future. We also created an interactive traveling exhibit to reach even more people. The exhibit, displayed around the world, sparks meaningful discussion on supply chain issues and potential solutions.

Supply systems for today and tomorrow

Today, vaccines are providing new hope to millions of people—as long as the vaccines can reach them. Project Optimize sparked a new movement to strengthen the supply chains that make this possible. In the future, PATH will support this momentum. Our goal is to ensure that lifesaving vaccines reach all children—quickly, efficiently, and in good condition—no matter where they live.