Jay Johnson, senior manager of Labelmaster Services, explains why regulations on the handling of hazardous materials apply to distributors of the COVID-19 vaccine, even though the vaccine isn’t itself classified as a “dangerous good” for purposes of transportation.
When clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccine began, a U.N. subcommittee of experts reclassified it as a genetically modified organism to exempt it from rules governing the movement of dangerous goods by air. But that didn’t absolve transporters and distributors from complying with those rules, because the shipments are accompanied by certain substances that clearly fall within the definition of dangerous goods, mostly notably dry ice, liquid nitrogen, and the lithium batteries that power data-loggers and temperature monitors in transit.
Vaccine shippers and carriers, therefore, must be intimately familiar with the strict requirements for safe transportation of dangerous goods. Dry ice, which is used to keep certain versions of the vaccine at super-cold temperatures of around minus 70 degrees F, displaces oxygen and can be deadly to those who handle it improperly. Liquid nitrogen, also registered as a coolant, is equally hazardous in unsafe conditions. And lithium batteries have been banned from the cargo holds of passenger aircraft because of their tendency to catch fire when damaged or improperly packaged.
Further complicating the picture is the lack of harmonization of rules for the movement of dry ice by air and ground transport. For the latter, it need not be identified as a dangerous good, but still poses the risk of death to handlers and is subject to rules on worker safety.
Despite the huge scale of the vaccine distribution, carriers and their employees have been complying with applicable regulations. Problems can occur, however, at the clinic or hospital, where individuals administering the vaccine might not be adequately trained in safety measures, says Johnson.
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