Vacuum Technology Makes Vaccine Production Possible

Posted on: July 22, 2021

It is not an understatement to say that the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States has changed life as we know it. What people might not realize is that vacuum technology is a critical component of vaccine manufacturing, storage and distribution.

Here is an overview of how vacuum technology is used in the various steps of producing, storing, and delivering vaccines. Anderson Dahlen produces vessels used for vacuum freeze-drying, and is directly involved in this critical phase of vaccine production.

Purification Of Vaccines With Vacuum Technology

A plentiful, readily available supply of vaccines begins with purification. Vaccine purification is a crucial step in the manufacturing process that employs an ultra-high-speed centrifuge.

Rotational speeds of more than 30,000 RPM ultimately lead to the complete separation of the active species and unwanted contaminants. These large speeds cause air friction within the mixture, resulting in heat generation that can damage the active components.

So high vacuum pump systems that incorporate a turbomolecular pump (TMP) are used to counter this friction by removing atmosphere and eliminating heat from the process. 

Freeze Drying and Storing

Given microorganisms and enzymes are key components in vaccines, freeze-drying is necessary to ensure these components are protected so the vaccine remains effective.

The process for freeze-drying involves combining the finished live vaccine with a water-based stabilizer to form a suspension, which is subsequently frozen. A vacuum is then applied with a small amount of heat so the ice turns from solid to vapor. It is the low temperature of the sublimation process that ensures the vaccine components remain active and undamaged. 

The freeze-dried vaccine is then vacuum-sealed and stored, which leads to long shelf life, rapid dissolution with diluent during use, and unchanged recovery characteristics.

Today vacuum storage is currently the most common means of preserving live vaccines. 

Production of Glass Vials

Before transportation and distribution can commence, the vaccine is dispensed into specialized glass vials. Using the right type of glass is crucial to maintain the vaccine’s efficacy; only low borosilicate glass provides the required chemical stability needed for long-term vaccine preservation. 

Again, vacuum technology is crucial in the two stages of production of borosilicate vials – during the melting process to remove air trapped in the glass (typically operating at approximately 50 mbar pressure) and the moulding process, which requires vacuum levels of approximately 100 mbar pressure. 

Transportation and Storage

COVID-19 vaccines need to be stored at very specific temperatures. For example, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine requires storage at -60°C. And Vacuum Insulation Panel (VIP) technology plays a critical role in maintaining these temperatures in an energy-efficient manner.

VIP technology allows a very low thermal conductivity of 0.004 (m.K), with a typical container wall thickness of 25–60 mm. By contrast, conventional mineral wool of 150 mm thickness would have a value of 0.04W (m.K). This provides for increased efficiency and storage within the refrigeration unit.

The VIP structure is made up of three parts: insulating material, a gas adsorption material (Getter) and a closed insulating film (barrier). This closed insulating barrier is pumped to a high vacuum level prior to sealing, which offers superior insulation properties. And the high-speed fore vacuum pumping train limits the time before the diffusion pump starts, offering a quick turnaround of the panels. 

Cutting Edge Careers In Vacuum Technology at Anderson Dahlen
Do you want to be part of a team that helps ensure the availability of life-saving vaccines, work with challenging, cutting-edge technologies and equipment, and get the compensation and work culture you seek? 

If so, then we want to talk to you. Contact us to learn more about new career opportunities.