Blockchain, IoT to Streamline Global COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Blockchain-based solutions for managing secure databases for the supply chain management of the COVID-19 vaccine, along with IoT solutions such as real-time monitoring and asset tracking, hold the potential to ensure successful distribution of the vaccine. Their use in such a huge exercise can ensure optimum utilization of resources to save precious lives, without compromising on quality and safety norms.

Challenges posed by temperature sensitivity, mass distribution

The mass distribution of any vaccine is a challenge. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), currently, about a quarter of the vaccine cargo gets degraded due to shipping-related oversights, such as pallets being left out of cold storage for too long. Additionally, about 20% of the temperature-sensitive vaccine shipments also deteriorate during transportation.

A COVID-19 vaccine comes with certain prerequisites in terms of temperature and shelf life. Hence, it is crucial to have a robust supply chain management with real-time logistics.

Global shipping infrastructure

The air cargo industry is planning to transport billions of COVID-19 doses. However, it has inadequate infrastructure, both for transportation and storage.

  • According to the IATA, almost 8,000 Boeing 747s will be required for the global distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, assuming one dose per person. But most vaccines developed so far require two doses.
  • DHL estimates it will need some 200,000 pallet shipments and 15,000 flights over the next two years.
  • The top three COVID-19 vaccines vying for global distribution – Pfizer, Moderna, and Oxford University-AstraZeneca – have different requirements in terms of the amount of dose, shelf life, and storage temperature. For example, Moderna’s vaccine requires minus 20 degrees Celsius temperature, whereas Pfizer’s vaccine needs around minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Counterpoint_ End to End Smart Logistics Solution for COVID 19 Vaccine Distribution

Local distribution and warehousing

Even at the local level, the same challenges of transportation and storage remain. There is an urgent requirement for pallet-sized cooling boxes embedded with temperature sensors, along with a direct or indirect communication protocol for secure real-time monitoring of the vaccine in transit as well as at the source and destination.

Blockchain and IoT-based solutions  

  1. Blockchain: We have already seen the adoption of blockchain in supply chain management. Walmart is one of the prime examples. It is also a crucial technology for ensuring the success of the COVID-19 vaccine with features such as maintenance of multiple databases, transparency, time-stamping, and authentication.
    • The implementation of blockchain in the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain will ensure the transparency of standards followed at each step by creating an exact copy of the ledger at every node in the network. Blockchain being a decentralized technology, the ledger in the network is public and maintained by all users, giving a transparent view at each level. Anything that needs to be added to the ledger is required to be validated by every node.
    • Blockchain not only improves the supply chain and logistics process but also ensures authentication of the healthcare workers’ identity, maintenance of patient records, and tracking of the treatment aftereffects.
    • Blockchain also acts as a supervisor for healthcare centers to check instances of staffers exploiting their authority or compromising on their responsibility.
  2. Internet of Things: IoT has already played a key role in the digitalization of logistics and supply chain management. The following IoT solutions can strengthen the supply chain for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution:
    • Apart from using a connected vehicle for tracking, IoT sensors can be embedded in vaccine cooling pallets or boxes along with a communication module to collect and analyze data on light, humidity, and temperature, and transmit it to the vaccine distribution authority.
    • Among all, the temperature sensor will be especially important as the vaccine requires ultra-low temperature (ULT). Many brands are coming up with temperature sensors, like Timestrip and PharmWatch. Timestrip has designed a sensor suitable for temperatures up to minus 70 degrees Celsius. The company is now working towards providing a cost-effective and fast production of the sensor. Some of its customers include 3M, the UK’s NHS, Tesco, Parker Hannifin, Siemens, and Febreze.
  3. Solutions from Blockchain and IoT Synchronization: The vaccine’s distribution can be secured by using scannable barcodes that send data to a blockchain system in the cloud, or a crypto seal that combines NFC chips with blockchain to track and secure the distribution.

Counterpoint_ COVID 19 Vaccine Supply Chain Based on Blockchain

In the last 10 months, the world has experienced the agony that COVID-19 can cause. Researchers and healthcare workers across the globe are running against time to save precious lives. Some COVID-19 vaccines have been cleared for use. But administering them to seven billion people will not be an easy task. Blockchain and IoT-based solutions can be of much help here.

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Arushi Chawla is a Research Analyst with Counterpoint Technology Market Research, based out of Gurgaon (near New Delhi). Currently, she is dedicated to primary research of emerging technology like mobile phone device, consumer IoT, and other technology-associated segments. She also has a keen interest in researching the impact of mobile phone technology and the digital payment ecosystem on the economy. Arushi holds a Post Graduate Degree in Economics from Amity School of Economics and is a graduate in Economics from Delhi University.

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