Coronavirus immunisation supply chain: Getting ready for the Covid-19 vaccine shot

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Updated: Dec 28, 2020 10:28 AM

Experts advise a cohesive approach backed by tech-intervention for a stream-lined Covid vaccination supply chain for India

Hirak Kayal, vice-president, Applications Development, Oracle, offers blockchain as a solution.Hirak Kayal, vice-president, Applications Development, Oracle, offers blockchain as a solution.

While India is well on its way to develop a coronavirus vaccine, making sure that the vaccine reaches everyone in a timely manner is a humongous challenge. No one has the experience in managing such a large-scale operation. However, the biggest vaccine supply challenge can be solved by the right technology intervention combined with human ingenuity.

The foremost challenge that India will face in accelerating the administration of a viable vaccine is ensuring that these vaccines are transported in compliance with all regulations and without breaking the cold chain from multiple production locations to all corners of the country. Christopher Holmes, MD, IDC Insights Asia Pacific says, “Getting the vaccine from the manufacturing sites to the global population will be the next challenge. Whilst the current emphasis is on vaccine development, governments need to put the processes and infrastructure in place to adequately and effectively manage the vaccine development ecosystem.”

With Serum Institute applying for emergency use authorisation for the first made-in-India vaccine, Covishield, the launch of the vaccine is round the corner. The vaccine has to be distributed via a temperature-controlled cold chain with constant quality checks. Unfortunately, India is also notorious for fake drugs, pilferage, and hoarding.

Hirak Kayal, vice-president, Applications Development, Oracle, offers blockchain as a solution. According to him, the tamper-proof nature of blockchain enables all parties in a supply chain network to record transactions at each stage of the product’s journey, and is a powerful tool to prevent real doses being replaced by counterfeits along the pharmaceutical supply chain.

The scale of this exercise cannot be underestimated, with nothing of this size having been attempted before. According to IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, safely delivering Covid-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry. “But it won’t happen without careful advance planning. And the time for that is now.” Governments, logistics providers, shippers, warehouse providers, and technology vendors will all need to come together to integrate their particular skills and capabilities to ensure success in combating Covid-19.

Kayal says, “The aging back-office systems many logistics companies are relying on are not capable of managing the scale and complexity of the task at hand. So, many organisations are turning to flexible and scalable cloud applications for supply chain and re-architecting their operations to be able to leverage technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and Blockchain to improve efficiencies.”

The government has announced that it will distribute the vaccine under a special Covid-19 inoculation programme, using the processes, technology and network of the existing Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP). The health ministry’s existing digital platform eVIN for the UIP will be used for vaccine distribution and delivery.

Oracle signed a contract with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), to help manage Covid vaccine programme in the US, using Oracle Health management suite of applications and cloud infrastructure from Oracle. Last month, in partnership with the Tony Blair Institute, the exact same cloud system was used to manage the distribution of the yellow fever vaccine in Africa. More than 70,000 people in Ghana were vaccinated during the first week of the programme.

The establishment of a strong technology backbone and data-sharing mechanisms is required before vaccine production. This needs three-way agreements between vaccine manufacturers, logistics service providers, relevant technology providers, and health authorities and governments.

According to Harsh Vardhan, minister of health and family welfare, science and technology, earth sciences, it is time to do away with a conservative approach and it is also the time to move from a command-and-control economy to plug-and-play in order to build a competitive global supply chain. To see this vaccine supply chain work from start-to-finish, India needs nothing short of a miracle, realisedmore by tech intervention than divine intervention, for once.

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