Tech that delivers a transparent, safe and fair vaccine rollout
- Posted on December 16, 2020
- Estimated reading time 4 minutes
When the vaccines that prevent symptomatic COVID infection in roughly 95% of people vaccinated have been used to inoculate approximately 90% of the population, it will help the world return to a life where we can travel without quarantining, invite neighbors into our homes without worrying and attend our favorite sports team games or religious services in person. Yes, I’m thinking about what it will take to return to a more “normal” life.
However, before we can put social distancing behind us, we need to recognize the importance of the vaccine rollout in determining how well a vaccine will quell the pandemic – figuring in its effectiveness and the pace at which people will volunteer to be vaccinated (depending both on delivery systems and public willingness), as well as how quickly the virus continues to spread.
The good news is the technology already exists to address some of the most pressing challenges. With the rollout of the vaccine, we have the ability to quickly deploy advanced digital tools such as artificial intelligence, smart inventory and connected medical devices to ensure vaccine distribution is transparent, safe and fairly administered.
Trusted vaccine chain of custody
For efficacy and safety, most vaccines need to be maintained at a specific temperature, in a seamless unbroken “cold chain” from the manufacturer to the point of use. The cold chain, a term health professionals use to describe this temperature-sensitive supply chain of custody, is a well-established process, but inoculating the entire world quickly is a challenge of an entirely new proportion.
Some of the newest COVID vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech’s will require specialized cold storage at -94 degrees Fahrenheit or -70 degrees Celsius, which is colder than winter in Antarctica. For these ultra-cold-requiring COVID vaccines, once they’re defrosted, the clock starts ticking. If the temperature rises above -70 degrees C, a diluted vaccine vial after a few hours will need to be discarded. An undiluted vaccine vial can last a few days. What if we could predict when this might happen anywhere in the supply chain, from factory all the way to the patient injection site?
We could use machine vision, NFC, wireless technology, and cloud data storage to automate inventory management, location tracking and package security. We could use the internet of things (IoT) to send an alert through the network of connected devices when vaccine storage requirements are about to go out of compliance – but before they actually happen.
From a cost perspective, supply chain data is more affordable to connect and collect than in the past, as IoT sensors have dropped from $1.30 USD per sensor in 2005 to $0.38 in 2020. Think about how much this capability could save on delivery costs, wasted or lost vaccines and, more importantly, human lives.
Accurate vaccine certification
For the first phase of this rollout, a CDC advisory panel recommended giving first priority to health care personnel and residents of long-term health care facilities. This will require a trusted and portable certification that can serve as on-demand proof of vaccination.
The key objective would be to track each vaccine vial and its delivery to a unique individual at a unique location and point in time, applying machine learning for inventory supply forecasting and projected outcomes. This will require cross-industry cooperation (government, health care providers, life sciences and supply chain) and a standards body to coordinate, monitor and maintain both security and privacy.
But how can we provide verification while protecting privacy and complying with health care information privacy regulations (e.g., HIPAA in the U.S.)? This is where a widely misunderstood technology, blockchain (distributed ledger), could be combined with multi-party systems (e.g., life sciences consortia) to provide an inviolate, secure and access-controlled certification model. In a recent Avanade LinkedIn poll, 65% ranked public education and vaccine distribution chain as the most likely challenges for healthcare facilities.
Fairness of distribution
With the vaccine rollout, it will be critical for organizations to develop and adhere to an overarching ethical framework for vaccine allocation to assist policymakers in planning for an equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Fairness requires engagement with the public, particularly those most affected by the pandemic, and data-driven decision-making about the allocation criteria and priority categories. As such, transparency in data collection becomes important, including the obligation to effectively communicate with the public openly, clearly, accurately and in a straightforward manner about the allocation framework as it is being developed, deployed and modified.
Open communication means that providers will need to be well prepared to answer the multiple questions from the public that will undoubtedly arise just as they did at the start of the pandemic. For example, providers should be prepared to use well-proven technology such as intelligent chatbots that can help address common questions, assist staff already overwhelmed with increased patient demands and provide people with accurate information about vaccine access and the impact on their health.
How can we get this done now to make a positive human impact?
At Avanade, we live by our motto #HumanImpact, and we have repeatedly proved that we can move quickly and with care during times of social disruption. When COVID first hit and the National Health Service in the United Kingdom urgently needed to make 15,000 ventilators, we helped a Microsoft consortium of leading UK industrial companies to rapidly set up a manufacturing facility. In two weeks, we deployed Microsoft Teams to facilitate rapid communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. We helped design and deploy a Microsoft Dynamics 365-based supply chain management system to manage the ventilator parts supply chain, inventory, and shipment at an accelerated rate.
Based on our Microsoft expertise and health care and life sciences industry commitment, I’m confident that Avanade can help our clients create a sustainable and resilient vaccine distribution system. The advanced technology and innovative thinking already exist. The commodity components and frameworks exist. It takes focus, commitment, support and a passion to help people. Knowing this, we can make a real and positive impact quickly and effectively, not just for the next year, but for years to come.