How Blockchain Could Help the COVID Vaccine Rollout

Several different types of COVID-19 vaccines are finally arriving around the world. With companies like Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca leading the way, millions of people have already gotten at least the first round of vaccinations. However, distribution of the vaccine is facing major problems, especially in the United States.

The world hasn’t seen such a severe outbreak of an illness since a century ago with the Spanish flu. Maintaining, distributing, and protecting vials of vaccines are massive feats that are facing setbacks from technology, criminal activity, and poor management.

With such pressing issues, blockchain offers a viable solution. Its security and transparency make it ideal for ensuring vaccines of all kinds reach healthcare facilities and patients in usable condition.

Since the virus has reached every continent, this pandemic has grown increasingly hard to contain. Though the vaccines offer significant hope, these problems are slowing their distribution.

1. Maintenance

COVID-19 vaccine vials require specific maintenance and monitoring. Each company’s vaccine has different temperature requirements, and doses must see distribution before they expire. The key issue here is that no single handler maintains the vials throughout the supply chain. Instead, multiple third parties transport and distribute them.

A Walgreens in Ohio recently had to throw out vials of the vaccine because they expired, and other facilities across the U.S. are seeing similar issues. Acting quickly is a necessity — once a facility receives the vials, they must use or freeze them quickly to avoid wasting them.

2. Protection

These vaccines are hot commodities. They are prized possessions that people are going to want to get their hands on as soon as possible. Since they’re so valuable, counterfeiters will be looking to steal vials and sell them at higher prices or sell fake versions. This activity is likely to stick around until the vaccine is widely available or until the vials have better protection.

Again, the supply chain is the most vulnerable spot. With transfers between different parties and a lack of tracking technology, criminals could intercept these vials. The FDA recently released a statement warning against fraud surrounding the pandemic.

3. Distribution

Too many facilities are already facing distribution errors, specifically from overwhelmed technology platforms and confusing rollouts. Multiple Florida counties reported such massive demand for vaccine appointments that some health facility IT systems crashed under the pressure. In some cases, system glitches deleted upcoming appointments for eligible recipients.

Similarly, people are signing up for the vaccine who aren’t eligible yet. This further adds to the strain on overburdened healthcare IT systems, personnel, and communication channels.

The additional lack of instruction for distribution has been a major setback, too. Pfizer announced in December 2020 that the company had warehouses full of vials, but no instruction on what to do with them yet.

4. Monitoring Recipients

Once recipients have gotten both doses of the vaccine, healthcare facilities will need to monitor them for any adverse reactions or side effects. Moreover, to slow and stop the spread, it’s vital for the country to know who has gotten the vaccine.

With hundreds of millions of people living in the United States, this feat may seem impossible. However, companies are now floating the idea of a health “passport” that logs a COVID-19 vaccination and other vaccine-related information.

How Blockchain Could Help

Technology helps during crises of this scale.

Social media and video chatting platforms have helped people connect while social distancing. For the vaccine, though, the world needs something stable and powerful. That’s where blockchain comes in.

Blockchain is a decentralized network that utilizes cryptocurrency and many other applications. It uses individual “blocks” to store ledgers about transactions and exchanges.

With the COVID vaccine, the supply chain could use tracking tech to monitor each vial. It could use blockchain to back up that information. The ledger would reflect each exchange and the details of how facilities store the vials. No one would be able to delete information, only add data.

The security of blockchain makes it hard to infiltrate, too. Thus, the information would remain accurate. This integration would reduce the issues of improper storage and potential theft. When it comes to distribution, facilities could potentially use blockchain to assign specific vials to certain patients, optimizing the entire process.

As for monitoring recipients and keeping track of who has received the vaccine, blockchain is already rising to the occasion. It’s likely that recipients are going to need some form of proof, something that no one can edit or falsify. Since blockchain provides those abilities within its ledgers, it is logical to use the network for health records.

Moving forward, the key factors to keep an eye on with blockchain technology are transparency and security. The general population, the government, and healthcare providers need a reliable way to get this vaccine to everyone — and get it to them quickly. With a reliable and private platform like blockchain, that distribution concept could soon become a reality.