The Covid-19 vaccine distribution presents the greatest supply chain challenge, but digital innovation offers simplified solutions for some complex challenges

The Covid-19 vaccine distribution presents the greatest supply chain challenge, but digital innovation offers simplified solutions for some complex challenges. Source: AFP

The vaccine distribution hurdles that tech is helping bridge

The COVID-19 vaccine distribution process is shaping up to be one of the most daunting supply chain challenges in logistical history. Vaccine rollouts need to be dispersed globally, with individual countries purchasing, tracking, and having to ensure the doses are properly stored and traceable. What’s more, systems to ensure everyone has been properly inoculated have to be set in place, as well as to trace who has yet to receive it.

Fortunately, just as it has been easing things in other areas of our lives that just would not have been possible during the pandemic, technology is set to play a key part in helping to speed up worldwide recovery from the coronavirus. Tech-driven methodology is present throughout the vaccination value chain, from tracking infection hotspots to know where to dispense aid, to helping administer and manage trial protocols, to optimizing vaccine distribution workflows on a macro level.

At the core of the vaccine distribution process is data. Thanks to massive quantities of data, the entire supply chain is mobilized with a variety of technological capabilities including artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT) that is able to sort through and organize veritable mountains of data concerning proper storage and transportation, proper temperature control and serial number tracking, tracing vehicle routes, and so much more – except it is all being organized and disseminated on a scale rarely seen in commercial rollouts.

“We have the scale of this pandemic: you’re trying to vaccinate 300 million-plus people,” said J.T. Lane, the innovation officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, a professional organization for public health officials in the US. “That’s the biggest effort of our lifetime.”

Tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, and Google had already been contributing to the pandemic cause since last year when they enabled contact tracing systems and data analysis, but that was then: now, vaccine distribution and management are becoming the major pandemic ‘growth sectors’ in countries where public vaccination rollouts are already underway.

Companies are realizing that there is a hole to be plugged to ensure effective dissemination is carried out. In the US for instance, Forbes is reporting that the CEO of Honeywell was frustrated by the sluggish rollout in the state of North Carolina, so he has formed a public-private partnership with three other companies to improve local efforts.

The Honeywell project taps tech like AI, the Internet of Things, and machine learning to create a high volume assembly line of sorts, where automated data entry, collection, and analytics helped vaccinate one person every four and a half seconds, resulting in almost 16,000 people inoculated in just one weekend.

These sort of vaccination logistics issues are what are prompting software firms like Workday to offer a platform that can track the immunization status of employees, as well as get a big picture view of vaccination rates throughout the company by job profile, location, region, and so forth. Meanwhile, Salesforce is empowering authorities with tech and data that can track inventory, refrigeration states, and other data on its site.

And that’s not all these tech giants are enabling. One major concern during the past year-plus is how to safely reopen borders, and vaccination passports have been mooted by both governments and the likes of Oracle, Microsoft, and Salesforce as a solution.

A vaccine passport would contain digital proof on whether a bearer has been successfully tested and vaccinated, and a unified electronic system that pulls up vaccination records at a moment’s notice and is widely accepted across countries, would be a revolutionary step for medical records, which were traditionally stored only at your doctor’s office.