January 13, 2021
Software’s Critical Role in COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts
January 13, 2021
The development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year is a marvel of medicine. The distribution of those vaccines to the global population will be a similarly amazing feat of modern logistics. Unsurprisingly, all of these advances will be enabled by software. As we turn the corner in the fight against the coronavirus, it’s worth looking at the key role that technology and technology companies will play in these efforts.
Right now, as pharmaceutical companies are hard at work manufacturing and distributing multiple vaccines, immunization of the population presents an enormous task that requires engagement from many actors and coordination between private and public sectors. Software-enabled technologies are playing a critical role supporting all steps of this monumental endeavor, as our list of case studies demonstrates.
Technologies including cloud computing, data analytics, machine learning, and blockchain supported initial vaccine research, development, and clinical trial programs, and continue to aid similar efforts. These technologies are also currently helping ensure that vaccines are delivered as safely and quickly as possible. In addition, software-enabled technologies provide government officials and the private sector with tools they need to devise and implement plans to ensure vaccination efforts will progress successfully, including by streamlining immunization records and the monitoring of patients’ health after vaccination.
Cloud computing and data analytics software can be used to securely store and analyze large amounts of data to help prioritize the delivery of vaccines based on a variety of factors, including inventory levels, population demographics and public health information. Among other uses, machine learning can be leveraged to anticipate potential distribution delays such as inclement weather or road closures and identify approaches to mitigate supply chain disruption by, for instance, identifying alternative delivery routes. Machine learning can also be used to help health authorities quickly decide the best course of action to address potential vaccination side effects based on information processed and analyzed in almost real-time. Data analytics and artificial intelligence are also being used to detect and prevent the harmful effect of cyber-attacks that could disrupt vaccine supply chains.
Blockchain, which is a digital ledger used to record transactions permanently and safely, is another technology that is playing an important role in the distribution and security of COVID-19 vaccines.
Some examples of how blockchain can support immunization efforts include:
- Proper Storage and Transportation Conditions: Vaccine supply chains are very intricate as they involve many stakeholders and steps that need to be taken quickly and safely. Each supply-chain step can be recorded using blockchain, which can help ensure vaccines are stored and transported from manufacturing facilities to patients observing the necessary protocols, including vaccine temperature conditions.
- Vaccine Integrity: Unfortunately, highly desirable products are often counterfeiting targets. Counterfeit vaccines would pose a grave risk to human life, as they would not only be ineffective but could also further harm patients’ health. Blockchain can be used to ensure that the vaccine that reaches patients was produced by authorized manufacturers. Ensuring each step of the supply chain is accounted for and safely recorded using blockchain can help ensure the integrity of the product that will be administered to patients.
- Efficient Vaccine Recall: In the event shipment, storage, or transportation protocols are breached, a recall may be necessary if such breaches raise concerns about the quality of the vaccines. When blockchain is used, products can be traced very efficiently, and recalls can occur quickly and in a very targeted manner. This would prevent major disruptions in delivery.
- Immunization Records: Patients, doctors, employers, school administrators, and other stakeholders will need rapid access to patient immunization records. And all this needs to be done quickly, safely, and in a way that ensures patient privacy. Paper-based records can be misplaced and could theoretically be forged. Blockchain can be used to securely record the vaccination dosage received by each person. These records can be made available digitally, almost in real time, minimizing errors and increasing efficiency. Blockchain records can be used to help doctors and patients keep track of when new immunization is required. People can keep their vaccination records in a secure “digital wallet,” and they can choose to share this information for any purposes they wish, including international travel.
To learn more about how blockchain solutions support immunization efforts, please see Software.org: The BSA Foundation’s “COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Puts Spotlight on Blockchain Benefits” paper.
There is great anticipation and hope for the COVID-19 vaccine, and many factors will contribute to the success of immunization efforts. Software will continue playing a key role in every step of this extremely important undertaking.
Executive Director, Software.org
As the founding executive director of Software.org, Chris Hopfensperger leads the foundation’s efforts to help policymakers and the general public better understand the impact that software has on our lives, our economy, and our society. He also helps translate the foundation’s philanthropic and forward-looking agenda into efforts to address key issues facing the software industry.