15 Oct 360-degree visibility into the COVID vaccine supply chain
by Dr. Suman De
Fighting COVID has not only been a clinical challenge; equally, it has revealed many of the shortcomings of healthcare supply chain management. We have recently witnessed how the public health departments struggled to procure, distribute, and manage personal protective equipment (PPE) demand. And, for COVID vaccine logistics, this is going to be even bigger, complex, and mind-bogglingly challenging. Questions first arise with the vaccine’s initial supply shortage and the need for an equitable allocation and distribution mechanism to meet the priority access population demand. Finally, there is complying with all of the stringent ultra-cold environment requirements involved with shipping, storing, handling, and administering the shots.
The front running drugs being developed to combat the novel coronavirus through the immunization program are unique in nature (nucleic-acid vaccines in the form of DNA or RNA). They will likely require even more careful management to keep them efficacious and safe for administration. According to a recent Bloomberg article, members of supply chain industries know full well that they are not prepared to handle the vaccine’s unique transit and distribution needs. What will it take to get them ready? What tools do we need to arm our distribution and logistics industries with to manage the COVID vaccine supply chain efficiently?
Safe administration and monitoring of the COVID vaccine supply chain will require exceptional IT ability to track and monitor distribution and administration through the entire process—end-to-end. This is a first of its kind process, something that has never been required before in any vaccine program. This goes beyond mere shipping updates and delivery status reports. To maintain the drug’s efficacy and a constant stream of related vaccination supplies, supply chain managers and clinic personnel will have to consider the rigorous temperature control in the ultracold chain (all through their distribution process), high-demand inventory management, batch monitoring, and much more. Additionally, they must keep notifying the jurisdiction’s public health authorities and CDC at timely intervals.
So far in this series, we’ve gone over the overarching challenges, solution areas, and functional needs of a vaccination management system. Now, it’s time to look at the specific features included in the Infosys Vaccination Management (IVM) offering that bring visibility and real-time insights to the complete vaccine supply chain to ensure the highest possible integrity and avoidance of any discrepancies and intended compromise.
One of the foundational factors to creating a 360-degree view of vaccine inventory is blockchain technology. Blockchain will allow every stakeholder—vaccine administrators, pharmaceuticals, state regulatory organizations, and distributor—to follow the data of a single dose from source to target and for every stage of the supply chain. Understanding everything that’s happening and keeping track of it for every vaccination supply will be mission-critical for public health. As a real-time digital ledger, Blockchain makes that kind of secure, reliable, immutable, authentic data flow possible. This ensures the availability of quality vaccines from manufacturers to service-delivery levels in an urgent timeframe.
“The interest level for the pharmaceutical supply chain in blockchain would encompass tracking whichever components they need to be included in their vaccines, along with their own portion of the vaccine that they develop,” says Gina Parry, Distribution and Pharmaceutical Sales Manager at VAI. “The blockchain itself would enable confidence for everyone from the pharmaceutical supply chain, down to doctors and recipients of vaccines that it has been verified along every step, and safe for distribution.”
The Infosys Vaccine Management solution is designed with the infrastructure to work with blockchain data and provide vaccine programs the complete visibility they need to track vaccine shipments and critical specs like source, destination, temperature control, transit duration, expiration, damage, spills, quantity, dosage requirements, stock-outs, wastage, time stamps, and more, all of which becomes essential in calculating a crucial inventory management parameter- vaccine wastage rate – a key input to jurisdiction’s demand planning and overall supply management.
With 25 percent of vaccines reaching their destination degraded because of incorrect shipping or temperature-sensitive deviations, the vaccine distribution process is brimming with room for improvement, especially with a critical vaccine like the COVID-19 immunization. Just think: if 25 percent of the COVID-19 vaccine is degraded, that means 25 percent of the doses are already not nearly as effective as they are designed to be upon arrival at the destination location. And that’s potentially 25 percent of vaccine recipients who don’t receive the anticipated protection and who don’t contribute to effective herd immunity.
To avoid all that, however, IoT sensors can bring the liability of vaccine degradations down dramatically. IoT sensors are a vital integration for visibility made compatible with the Infosys Vaccination Management solution. These sensors can track vaccine temperature (freezer, refrigeration, while thawing and reconstituting before administering the vaccine), power outages, rest times, freezer opening/closing time logs, pilferage, and more. This gives distributors, providers, and health departments real-time, constant updates into how the vaccine is maintained, capturing any discrepancy found in handling and warning of non-compliance to the public health authorities.
With the Blockchain data and monitoring from IoT sensors integrated into the IVM solution, agencies can avoid wasting a high-demand product and get ahead of the vaccine demand vs. supply issues with instant, data-driven insights. This means they can forecast supply, determine what populations still require vaccination, and place orders well in advance, so there is no stalling in inventory flow or any unforeseen stockouts. Whether it’s vials, alcohol swabs, diluent, syringes and needles, rubber stoppers, plungers, PPE kits, or the vaccine itself, providers and public health agencies need to keep countless products in stock and cared for. This will require an immense amount of data and advanced analytics (predictions) to empower their decision-making with population-based intel, which will eventually help them ensure the right products are available in the right quantity, in the right condition, in the right place, and at the right time.
Integration with CDC VTrckS
The IVM solution connects with CDC’s VTrckS (Vaccine Tracking System), so providers can easily submit orders and manage their inventory of the vaccine and administration kits to be planned and approved by the jurisdiction public health agency based on their allocation strategy.
Never before has distribution and inventory management been so critical for a single vaccine. With the right tools and cutting edge technology in place, however, public health agencies and vaccine administrators can manage the many complex supply chain needs of a safe COVID vaccine at scale, ensuring trust and transparency to help achieve a truly equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to save human lives.
Dr. De is Infosys Public Services’ Head for Government Healthcare Solutions. In this capacity, he is responsible for the ideation and development of next-generation solutions for public health agencies. He has vast experience in the public health domain, and his previous work experience ranges from involvement with Govt. of India’s National pulse polio immunization program in collaboration with the World Health Organization and various other public health projects conducted by international organizations like UNICEF, Indian Public Health Association, etc. He has been recognized as a subject matter expert (SME) in healthcare for his contribution to the industry through thought leadership, points of view, articles, workshops, running webinars, and speaking sessions. Dr. De is a graduate in medicine from India and holds a Masters in Healthcare Administration from a premier business school in India. He is the recipient of several awards of excellence in recognition of his work for the healthcare industry.