How IT is playing a major role in Covid-19 vaccine efforts

As people around the world receive their Covid-19 vaccinations, we look at the role IT has played in the rollout.

Hands protect a globe with a healthcare shield against surrounding viral cells.
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People all over the world are hoping that the multiple vaccines becoming available from pharmaceuticals suppliers will help bring an end the Covid-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc in so many ways.

A key to the success of these vaccines is how effectively they are maintained, distributed, and administered globally. It’s an enormous task, with much riding on its success. Technology is playing a big part in efforts to get vaccine doses to as many people as quickly and as safely as possible. Here are some of the ways IT is coming into play.

Sharing essential information via a cloud-based portal

In December 2020, customer relationship management (CRM) software provider Salesforce and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a public–private global health partnership working to increase access to immunization in poor countries, announced a collaboration to help Gavi manage critical information to equitably distribute about two billion COVID-19 vaccines to 190 countries by the end of 2021.

Organizations such as Gavi rely on data to facilitate distribution of medicines at scale, and the ability to manage large volumes of country-specific data is essential. The health partnership in June 2020 had teamed up with partners to launch COVAX, a global alliance with a goal of ensuring that people worldwide get access to COVID-19 vaccines.

COVAX will achieve this by supporting the research, development, and manufacturing of a range of COVID-19 vaccine candidates, and negotiating pricing and distribution for the 190 countries that have joined the alliance.

Gavi needs to have a reliable, single source of data to help understand how many vaccine doses are needed and where. To achieve this, it’s using Salesforce’s cloud services as well as its, a suite of applications and resources designed to help organizations support the health and wellbeing of employees, customers, and communities. It supports functions such as shift management, manual contact tracing, and vaccine management.

The Salesforce platform powers Gavi’s COVAX country engagement platform, which will help it manage critical information. It’s enabling COVAX to support fast access to vaccines with a single, secure portal that all participating countries can access to communicate and share information such as vaccine requirements and access reports.

Countries eligible for support by COVAX will use the portal to provide information to facilitate planning of doses to be rolled out. Higher-income, self-financing countries participating in COVAX can use the portal to get updates about their financial position as it changes over time.

Tracking and managing the vaccination process with an electronic health records database

The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) is using Oracle’s National Electronic Health Records Cloud and the vendor’s Public Health Management Applications Suite to manage the COVID-19 vaccination program throughout the U.S.

The suite includes applications for managing the entire vaccination process—from ordering the vaccine, tracking shipments, and managing inventory—to directly communicating with vaccinated patients via smart phones to collect safety data such as side effects and adverse events.

Oracle created a National Electronic Health Records (EHR) Database in addition to the applications to help U.S. public health agencies and healthcare providers collect and analyze data related to COVID-19. The EHR system enables public health officials to have access to data about how many people have been vaccinated in particular locations.

The database and applications suite were first used in June 2020 to register and directly communicate with more than 500,000 people who volunteered to participate in clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. By working with the CDC and U.S. Department of Defense during the pandemic, Oracle says it was able to extend the capabilities of the suite to help manage nationwide distribution and to collect patient data around COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

The system makes it easy for every person who receives a vaccination to use a smartphone or a computer to report side effects. Everyone receiving a vaccine can directly communicate with healthcare professionals who will track all side effects and adverse events for the first days, weeks, and months after injection.

Collecting this data will help medical professionals better understand how different individuals respond to different vaccines, Oracle says, and the system will notify a physician in the event of a patient exhibiting a serious adverse reaction to a vaccine.

Blockchain-based technology helps organizations and individuals verify vaccine and health status

IBM and Salesforce in December 2020 announced that they’re integrating IBM’s Digital Health Pass with the Salesforce’s to create a platform that provides organizations with a means to track information related to vaccine distribution and other health-related activities.

The integration will provide organizations with a single hub to help make decisions as they look to minimize risk, take action when needed, and communicate effectively in their efforts to help bring employees back to offices and enable people to stay in hotels, attend concerts and sporting events, and take part in other activities—in a safe manner given the ongoing pandemic.

The Digital Health Pass, built on IBM blockchain technology, is designed to enable organizations to verify health credentials for employees, customers, and visitors based on criteria specified by the organization, such as test results, vaccination records, and temperature checks.

For example, IBM says, once a vaccine is administered an individual would be issued a verifiable health credential via the IBM Digital Health Pass. This would be included only in that individual's encrypted digital wallet on the individual’s smartphone. Privacy is vital, the company says, so individuals maintain control of their personal health information and share it in a way that’s secure, verifiable, and trusted.

As testing becomes more widespread and vaccine distribution gets underway, IBM says it’s expanding the availability of IBM Digital Health Pass with Salesforce to help organizations verify an individual's vaccine status and any other relevant health credentials.

With, organizations can also deliver wellness surveys to employees, visitors or travelers, help them schedule COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, and send manual contact tracing alerts if there is potential exposure.

Vendor partnership supports the use of artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and other technologies to support vaccine delivery

Microsoft and its partners are working with customers to deploy vaccine management platforms that enable registration capabilities for patients and providers, phased scheduling for vaccinations, streamlined reporting, and management dashboards with analytics and forecasting.

These offerings are designed to help public health agencies and healthcare providers to deliver the COVID-19 vaccines to individuals in an efficient, equitable, and safe manner. Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) has deployed more than 230 emergency COVID-19 response missions globally since the pandemic began, according to Microsoft.

MCS has developed an offering, the Vaccination Registration and Administration Solution (VRAS), which supports patient assessment, registration, and phased scheduling for vaccine distribution. The application provides tracking and reporting of immunization progress through a secure data exchange that uses industry standards such as Health Level Seven (HL7), Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), and open APIs.

Health providers and pharmacies can monitor and report on the effectiveness of specific vaccine batches, and health administrators can summarize how vaccine deployment goals are being met in large population groups.

Several Microsoft partners are using the company’s cloud services to provide customers with additional offerings to support vaccine management. These also apply APIs, HL7, and FHIR to allow interoperability and integration with existing systems of record, artificial intelligence (AI) to generate accurate and geo-specific predictive analytics, and secure communications using Microsoft Teams.

Partners including Accenture and EY are working on technologies to assist with vaccine manufacturing and distribution. For example, the EY Vaccine Management Solution is built on Microsoft technologies such as Azure, Dynamics 365, Power BI, and Power Platform to enable patient-provider engagement, supply chain visibility, and Internet of Things (IoT) real-time monitoring of the vaccines.

Another partner, Mazik Global, is leveraging its expertise in the healthcare industry to create MazikCare Vaccine Flow, which uses pre-built templates to accelerate the mass distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Healthcare providers will be able to seek out specific populations based on at-risk criteria to prioritize distribution. The system can also monitor vaccine inventory levels as well as the temperature of vials.

Temperature sensing and monitoring tools ensure vaccines remain viable during the distribution process

One of the keys to ensuring that vaccines remain viable during the distribution process is to store them at certain temperatures. Because of this, entities handling the distribution need ways of monitoring environments to ensure that temperature thresholds are not crossed.

Companies such as Zebra Technologies are providing tools to healthcare organizations to address these challenges. For example, Zebra’s Temptime technology is being used to ensure that the vaccines stay viable every step of the process—from being packaged to administration to patients.

The vaccines range in stability profiles from ultra-frozen to frozen to refrigerated, and managing these profiles is critical to maintaining approved vaccines’ efficacy from manufacture to administration, the company says. Deploying appropriate vial-level temperature traceability across the supply chain is needed to ensure the effective handling and delivery of vaccines.

The company says an inability to manage the process well will result in waste due to lack of temperature management, especially in the last mile. Vials not stored properly will be disposed of because they are no longer safe for administration to individuals.

Other impacts could include increased cost to taxpayers to vaccinate the population, increased time to vaccinate the population, and individuals receiving a vaccination that might not be effective.

Temptime offers a portfolio of temperature sensing and monitoring tools at the individual product, shipment, and storage levels. The platform has years of experience delivering vial-level temperature monitoring capabilities to ensure that healthcare workers can identify and remove suspected heat-damaged vaccines prior to being administered.

While Zebra declined to share details about which companies it’s working with in vaccine monitoring, a spokesperson says the company has business relationships with many of the national and regional pharmaceutical distribution companies that use its cold chain monitoring devices as part of their standard shipment process.

Technology tools work together to enhance and guard vaccine supply chains

IBM is also offering a range of technologies including supply chain management software and an open blockchain-based approach to record and authenticate the temperature and handling of each vaccine dose, to help governments and private companies with vaccine distribution.

By bringing the power of blockchain, AI, hybrid cloud, and security technologies together, the company is helping organizations speed the medicines from production facilities to doctors’ offices.

All of these technologies must work together, which is why a commitment to open standards and interoperability are particularly critical to the effort, IBM says.

To identify recalled doses and temperature excursions before they reach patients, distributors need to invest in an “intelligent supply chain” that’s capable of offering a near-real time view into the supply of goods, the company says. IBM is working with organizations along the entire supply chain to apply its technology to make sure inventory visibility is maintained. This enables an accurate view of inventory positions and optimizes vaccine allocation through the supply chain.

IBM’s Data Science Elite Team is working on an AI-powered risk assessment tool to help organizations predict and mitigate bottlenecks and other problems in their supply chains. The team is building a proof of concept accounting for the risk variables associated with vaccine distribution, from refrigeration trucks to grocery story pharmacy cooling capacities.

Pharmaceuticals company Pfizer, which is providing one of the Covid-19 vaccines, has developed its own technology to monitor the temperature and location of its vaccine while in transit. The company did not provide details about the technology, but Tanya Alcorn, vice president of Pfizer BioPharma Global Supply Chain, says it was created specifically for the distribution of this vaccine.

Normally the company relies on logistics carriers to know where its shipments are, Alcorn says, but it didn’t want to depend on just that option so created a “breakthrough” technology that allows Pfizer to continuously track the location and temperature of shipments in real time. This was critical to ensuring an efficient and flawless rollout, she says.