Afternoon Coffee: COVID-19 vaccine will need a cold supply chain to be effective; Asia-Pacific countries create world’s largest trade bloc; Walmart to test driverless electric cars for deliveries

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The next hurdle to get a global mass delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine will remain within the logistical hurdle of keeping the supply cold, according to Vox.

Vaccines are very fragile and demand strict temperature controls to prevent spoilage — which happens a lot. The World Health Organization said about half of the vaccines distributed around the world go to waste, mainly because of a failure to properly control storage temperatures. This can then undermine the efforts to contain or eradicate disease, the article said.

This vulnerability will only be heightened with the potential COVID-19 vaccine, where nearly everyone in the world is vulnerable and will need the vaccine. Containing COVID-19 will require billions of people to be immunized globally — and likely with two doses.

Pfizer and BioNTech reported their vaccine is more than 90% effective at preventing COVID-19 in preliminary data. Moderna also reported its vaccine is 94.5% effective. However, each one has strict temperature requirements, the article reported. Moderna’s vaccine requires long-term storage at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit, while Pfizer’s requires minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. There are concerns that the same supply chain problems that happened in the early days of COVID-19 could be repeated in a high-stakes vaccination effort.

“There’s almost an assumption that once a vaccine is created and approved, then everyone is healthy and fine, but the operational component is pretty complex,” Caesar Djavaherian, an ER physician and chief clinical innovation officer at Carbon Health, told Vox. “We’ve never tried to administer vaccines to 100 million Americans in a short period of time.”

The world’s largest trading bloc

Fifteen countries announced the forming of the world’s largest trading bloc, covering a third of the global economy, according to BBC News.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is made up of 10 Southeast Asian countries with South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Negotiations over the deal began in 2012 and was finally signed on Sunday, the article said. Some see the pact as an extension of China’s influence in the region.

Members of the RCEP make up nearly a third of the world’s population and account for about 29% of global gross domestic product. The new free trade bloc will be bigger than both the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the European Union, the article reported.

Leaders hope the pact will help to spur economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

"Under the current global circumstances, the fact the RCEP has been signed after eight years of negotiations brings a ray of light and hope amid the clouds," said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Walmart to use driverless electric cars to deliver groceries, goods

Starting next year, Walmart will begin delivering groceries and other goods at customers’ homes by a small fleet of electric-powered, driverless cars, according to CNBC.

The retailer announced last week that it will kick off a pilot program with General Motors and its all-electric vehicle subsidiary, Cruise. Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of customer product, said customers that live near Scottsdale, Arizona, will be able to place an order from a local store and have it delivered by a Cruise car, the article said. Ward said it will further two of the retailer’s goals: getting customers’ orders delivered quickly and moving toward Walmart’s goal of zero emissions by 2040.

“Technology that has the potential to not only save customers time and money but also be helpful to the planet is technology we want to learn more about,” Ward said in a post on the company’s website, CNBC reported.

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