Expert: Lack of communication led to Health Board's cold storage failure

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The Health Board's cold storage unit. Source: Health Board

The Health Board claimed that the cold storage failure, which led to the destruction of nearly 70,000 coronavirus vaccines in late June was a result of dropping internal control mechanisms. Refrigeration technology experts say a lack of communication is a likelier reason for the failure than technology.

The Health Board shipped 52,800 doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to Ukraine on Wednesday, all retrieved from a partner warehouse, because one of the storage facilities of the board failed in late June, destroying some 70,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines in addition to nearly 200,000 doses of other vaccines.

The written off vaccines are still in storage, because there is no reason to move them until they will be destroyed. The damages amount to some €3 million, but communication with insurers is still ongoing, ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported on Wednesday.

Health Board chief Üllar Lanno presented temperature graphs at a press conference and explained that three duplicating warning systems did not operate as they should. Some were not set up as required.

"There was too much trust in this technical warning system and the human, visual check, which would have spotted this, was canceled around the time temperatures began to rise," Lanno said.

He pointed to state-owned real estate group Riigi Kinnisvara AS, the owner and administrator of the Health Board's buildings, which has had issues with design and procurements. In addition to Riigi Kinnisvara, the Agency of Medicines, the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority, the National Audit Office and the Government Office are involved in the investigation.

The Agency of Medicines has conducted checks on the storage before and has highlighted areas for improvement. Lanno said there are aspects of the Health Board that need to be improved, as well. "One of them is the quality control system here at the Health Board, which has not been operational since 2018," Lanno noted.

Lanno also noted that the board will forward an investigation report to the insurers. "It is not our goal to hide or deny this, we certainly want to share this information. We will likely not get the damages back, but we can learn a lot from this process," the Health Board chief said.

An investigation committee has stated that the Health Board should reorganize its cold storage systems in a manner, which would take it into accordance with earlier recommendations. Lanno said the board will look into dividing the cold storage units as a separate structural unit, which would require the hiring of a head.

Expert: Communication likely to blame instead of technology

The Tallinn Center of Industrial Education trains specialists in a modern refrigeration equipment training laboratory. Damages from the destroyed vaccines would cover the development of nearly 10 of these classes.

Lecturer and Estonian Refrigeration Association CEO Riho Pilv was following the Health Board's press conference on Wednesday, as the sector's reputation is at stake. He felt like the failure stems from a lack of communication instead of faulty technology.

"In the private sector, for example, technical maintenance groups and the customers must get along well. And they should not notify each other through third and fourth parties like a game of telephone, where the information may change. There are different options to do this with the equipment available today," Pilv said.

The expert emphasized that modern technology is not at fault for the storage failure if the project is thoroughly drawn up. "Objects and refrigeration systems of such importance should be duplicated, so if something happens to one, the other will work. This would avoid millions in damages, like this situation here," Pilv said.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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