Revolutionizing global vaccine distribution

By Brandon Smith

The inaccessibility of vaccines kills 21,000 children every day in underdeveloped countries, accordingto the World Health Organization.

Many of these countries and the United Nations lack the means to pay for the distribution of lifesaving treatments they desperately need, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund, and the vaccines that are paid for are often damaged during the transportation process. The question has been raised as to how entrepreneurs could build a better system to transport and finance vaccines.

Four years ago, Michael Moreland set out to answer that question. He created SEEDR L3C, a low-profit, limited liability company that weds entrepreneurship with philanthropy, a business structure that is arguably the first of its kind.“This model gives managers a fiduciary responsibility to execute a mission,” Moreland said.

“It aligns goals and builds trust between distributors, buyers and users because so often products and packaging are not designed particularly for the people who really need them to work.”SEEDR has worked with a number of research and technology companies during the last four years to develop new technologies for vaccine transportation.

Moreland and his partners analyzed the margin of error during the distribution of vaccines and found that 70 percent are unusable because of poor packaging.Vaccines must remain at a specific temperature from the time they are manufactured to their delivery and ultimate use. Vaccine distribution is particularly difficult because the cargo is sent overseas to countries that lack adequate infrastructure.

“I have always been interested in making markets work for public causes and for the creation of public goods,” Moreland said. “I didn’t want to just adapt products. A lot of people adapt products for local markets, but we wanted to actually have that process take place within a broader conversation.”

Moreland said his most significant work is the re-engineering of the vaccine distribution chain that delivers vaccines to 103 million children worldwide. He and his team completely redesigned the packaging in which vaccines are stored so the product arrives intact.

“I was amazed to find that all of this technology, investment and security that goes into the cases used to store vaccines are totally wasted once they get into the field,” Moreland said. “When you’re out there, you see that people are using the equivalent of standard coolers.”

David VanArsdale, Founder of the design firm People of Resource and lead designer of the cold storage containers, said working on the project was extremely rewarding.

“There is so little education and training in the places these vaccines are being sent,” VanArsdale said. “So our bread and butter challenge was to design these containers so that people could not fail when handling them.”

The packaging was engineered to keep vaccines from being exposed to freezing temperatures. Multiple lids were used so it was not necesary to open and close the entire container, which would jeopardize all of the vaccines, according

to VanArsdale.

Moreland explained that redesigning the storage containers was preceded by a lengthy process of field research. The project also created a distribution chain for the blood samples of vaccine recipients.

Establishing and maintaining a specimen surveillance and transport line was crucial to understanding what, where and how many vaccines are needed for a particular area because blood samples are needed to diagnose disease, he said.

Moreland said there are outreach clinics where medical personnel take blood samples from the locals every few weeks. He said once the chain was implemented, many cases of curable diseases and viruses could be targeted more efficiently by diagnosticians.

“Until now, there was no formal chain for transferring disease specimens,” Moreland said. “Once we fixed that, research flourished, and a lot of people use it now.”

Moreland said the problems SEEDR addresses speak volumes about the medical industry’s lack of social responsibility

“The social value of innovation far exceeds the value that an inventor or manufacturer can expect to see,” Moreland said. “The problem is that, in many cases, a company is looking to turn a profit, and this can often affect the supply line, especially in terms of

delivering vaccines.”

Moreland believes in a new paradigm that he calls “philanthropic market disruption.” This means creating products that are still profitable but serve the public good.

He said chemists, epidemiologists, manufacturers and data analysts need to work together, and SEEDR aims to encourage this kind of collaboration.“I believe in markets,” Moreland said. “They are products of our own creations. They’re about rules, regulations and incentives, and there are ways to shape them to fit our mission.”