How the massive plan to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine could make history – and leverage blockchain like never before

vaccine 2020

(CDC, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Punit Shukla, Project Lead, Blockchain and Digital Assets, World Economic Forum, Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution India & Amey Rajput, Fellow, Blockchain and Digital Assets, World Economic Forum, Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution India & Sid Chakravarthy, Founder & CEO, Statwig


  • Distributing the COVID-19 vaccine will require one of the largest supply chain capacities for fighting pandemics ever built.
  • Eradicating COVID-19 around the world could require distributing between 7 to 19 billion vaccine doses – and blockchain is integral to making it equitable.
  • Blockchain will be essential to equitable, efficient distribution and be leveraged at a scale never seen before.

Finding a coronavirus vaccine is key, but finding a way to distribute it on a global scale will be equally crucial. This effort will take building a manufacturing and supply chain capacity larger than ever before, more quickly than ever for vaccine distribution. That success also requires leveraging tools and capabilities – such as blockchain – in a way never seen before in the history of fighting pandemics.

Scale and the challenge ahead

Decades of running immunization programs by UNICEF and Gavi Alliance tell us that vaccine supply chain and delivery takes years to stabilize depending on the geography. For instance, polio immunizations in India took more than a decade to cover 100% of the population’s children – 175 million under age five. The Pulse Polio immunization program was launched in 1995 with the last case reported in 2011.

Additionally, UNICEF, world’s largest vaccine buyer for children, procured 2.43 billion doses of vaccines in 2019 to reach approximately less than half of the world’s children under five for an effort covering a range of diseases (including measles, diarrhoea, pneumonia and polio).

The unique challenge of scale is greater in the COVID-19 pandemic and that challenge is precedent setting. This vaccine must cover every country in every continent and every person in every age group. Assuming the approved vaccine requires just one dosage per individual, at least 7 billion doses of the vaccine will need to be in the hands of healthcare workers. Assuming a 20-30% loss during transit and storage, this could mean close to 10 billion doses in the supply chain. Should the vaccine administration require two dosages per individual, the volume needed could top 19 billion vials.

The different stages of coronavirus vaccines being developed.
The different stages of coronavirus vaccines being developed.
Image: Nature Reviews

Building an equitable, responsive system

A supply chain for COVID-19’s vaccine will also be unique. While multiple geo-political, economic and nationalistic interests will influence who discovers the cure, who manufactures it, who funds it and who needs it, the supply chain must be “equitable.” There must be a global consensus on who should get it first, one not based on who can buy it first. Such an equitable supply chain can only be built on a doubtless, openly verifiable, consensus-driven system having immutable integrity of data with no single source of control. To achieve the global optimum, instead of a national or regional optimum, vaccine access will critically depend on an information system with the highest possible integrity, capable of avoiding forces of vested interests. Thus, blockchain and distributed ledger technology will be essential for an equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Additionally, the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain information system must be built with real-time tracking capability and updates on parameters such as vaccine storage levels, temperature control, stock-outs, quantities of ancillary supplies (diluent, syringes and needles, glass vials, rubber stoppers, plungers, wicks and kerosene for refrigerators etc.). This becomes imperative in calculating the most important parameter, vaccine wastage rate – a key input to anticipate demand, plan manufacturing and supplies, and reducing stock-outs/over-stocks. At the scale of ~10 billion units, estimates of wastage at every stage of the supply chain and its accuracy can be the key in ensuring or denying access to the vaccine for large segments of population. Here again, blockchain will be critical.

Blockchain and distributed ledger technology will be essential for an equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Even now in our current scenario, we don’t have accurate estimates of wastage rates. In the absence of national figures, WHO issues Indicative Vaccine Wastage Rates and a tool for estimation. However, the tool itself acknowledges a lack of accurate and appropriate data at the country level, thanks in part to overburdened systems reporting data that are late or incomplete, and the difficulties in identifying a vaccine’s target demographic. A report on immunization information systems by WHO under project Optimize, a WHO-PATH project to facilitate an efficient vaccine supply chain, hints that even the Gavi Alliance has seen its attempts to make financial support proportional to performance targets get limited by questions regarding data variances. For the COVID-19 vaccine, we would need live tracking of every vial with all the storage and handling environment parameters with doubtless integrity and open accessibility by all stakeholders which can only be done with a decentralised open ledger.

Solutions in development

Efforts leveraging blockchain technology have been undertaken across the globe, in context of supply chain at ports, in retail and logistics. Blockchain has been mostly used in these pilot experiments to enable real-time tracking of shipments and shared access of data between consortium members, building trust. The learnings from these pilots can now be utilized to enable a truly global ledger for the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain.

Efforts to leverage blockchain for vaccines are already in development. One UNICEF Innovation Fund and Gavi Infuse portfolio startup, StaTwig, has been building and testing a vaccine supply chain management platform which ensures all stakeholders have complete visibility of all vaccines at national, state and district levels and at different stages of the supply chain. The platform uses QRcodes [Barcodes/Serial Numbers] printed at unit-levels to track the vaccines from the manufacturer to end-consumer on an open source blockchain platform. At each touchpoint in the supply chain, the platform records data such as quantity, temperature record, timestamps, chain of custody and price against the unique QRcode. The platform supports aggregation and disaggregation so that the number of QRcode scans can be reduced exponentially at pallet, box-levels. This process also simplifies tracking of the products in the extended supply chains which includes last-mile deliveries. StaTwig’s teams have been testing the solution with UNICEF program teams in the Middle East, North Africa and in India as well.

Blockchain

What is the World Economic Forum doing about blockchain interoperability in global supply chains?

The World Economic Forum has produced a report on “Inclusive Deployment of Blockchain for Supply Chains – A Framework for Blockchain Interoperability”. This report, in collaboration with Deloitte, helps organizations understand the importance of interoperable blockchains and outlines a decision framework to support their development and execution. The report is the seventh in a series, offering analysis that helps organizations responsibly deploy blockchain and distributed ledger technology in supply chains, to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of the technology.

Helpful in these efforts is a recently released Blockchain Deployment Toolkit. Developed by the World Economic Forum Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution, the toolkit helps in building a “shared truth” in supply chains depending on trust, transparency and integrity, informing the deployment of new use cases.

Still, more needs to be done. Such an effort would require global coordination of digitizing the vaccine supply chains, retraining and digi-skilling of the involved workforce and aligning all the players – manufacturers, suppliers, buyers, frontline health workers and governments towards a consensus to use such a system. Large scale deployment of IoT devices would be required across the whole inventory and logistics, to maintain real-time tracking without too much manual intervention. Since a shared tracking of data may also give rise to concerns around privacy (for both individuals and enterprises alike), privacy preserving techniques would need to be fundamentally coded into the information system.

Such efforts to build an open system to track and trace every vaccine dose accurately and transparently will be required to build a global consortium of vaccine researchers, pharmaceutical companies, manufacturers, distributors, healthcare workers and governments. Blockchain technology allows us to do this at scale, building trust and transparency which will reduce the vaccine wastage rates, eliminate stockouts and ensure a truly equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to the entirety of human population.

We’ve reached an important juncture in technology evolution where the right tools, resources and optimism are present. Leveraged correctly, it is an unprecedented opportunity to capture the minds of innovators to build a first-ever solution to save human lives around the globe.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Smart cities must pay more attention to the people who live in them

The EU seals CETA but plans to re-baptise TTIP after missing the 2016 deadline

Redefining the business of business

Science leads the response to COVID-19. These 25 scientists are tackling the other global challenges

European Agenda on Migration four years on: Marked progress needs consolidating in face of volatile situation

Four million Syrian children have only known war since birth: UNICEF

Commission welcomes political agreement on InvestEU

This simple solution might help with one of the biggest challenges of working from home

MEPs back update of rail passenger rights across EU

EU summit: Are the London Tories planning an exit from the EU?

UN Middle East Coordinator strongly condemns ‘arrests and violence’ by Hamas security forces during Gaza protests

These countries have the most doctors and nurses

‘Leaders who sanction hate speech’ encourage citizens to do likewise, UN communications chief tells Holocaust remembrance event

5 inventions that could transform the health of our ocean

This electric plane has flown successfully for 30 minutes – is this the future of flying?

End ‘shame, isolation and segregation’ of fistula sufferers, urges UN reproductive health chief

The Italian ‘no’ and France’s Fillon to reshape Europe; Paris moves closer to Berlin

From fishing village to futuristic metropolis: Dubai’s remarkable transformation

The EU and Japan trade deal celebrates second anniversary by further strengthening ties

On flight to sustainable development, ‘leave no country behind’, urges aviation agency

Commission launches debate on more efficient decision-making in EU social policy

Banks worth $47 trillion adopt new UN-backed climate, sustainability principles

UN Human Rights chief urges Venezuela to halt grave rights violations

‘Complacency’ a factor in stagnating global vaccination rates, warn UN health chiefs

To prevent coronavirus don’t touch your face – but how can you avoid it?

World’s human rights watchdog spotlights Afghanistan, Yemen and 12 others: Here’s the scoop

How Germany strives to mold ECB’s monetary policy to her interests

Parliament commemorates the victims of the Holocaust

European Commission Joint Research Centre opens world-class laboratories to researchers

70 years on, landmark UN human rights document as important as ever

Autumn 2019 Economic Forecast: A challenging road ahead

Mental Health: starting with myself

“An open China brings opportunities to Europe”, a Sting Exclusive by China’s Ambassador to EU

EU solidarity in action: Commission proposes €86.7 million for the recent natural disasters in France and Greece

EU budget 2021-2027: Commission calls on leaders to set out a roadmap towards an autumn agreement

Hungary has made progress on greening its economy and now needs to raise its ambitions

‘Make healthy choices’ urges UN agency, to prevent and manage chronic diabetes

Parliament votes reform for better European Co2 market but critics want it sooner than later

Wednesday’s Daily Brief: migration tragedy in the Rio Grande, drugs report, Torture Victims Day

My experience living with depression and schizophrenia in Thailand

How to make trade single windows more efficient with blockchain

IWD 2021: The gender dimension must be included in the COVID-19 recovery plans

Nuclear testing has ‘disastrous consequences’ for people and planet, General Assembly told

State aid: Commission approves €400 million of public support for very high-speed networks in Spain

The West – the EU and the US – is writing off Turkey’s Erdogan

Trade barriers are slowing plastic-pollution action. Here’s how to fix it

4 myths about manufacturing in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

EU Migrant Crisis: Italian Coast Guard Headquarters and Italian Navy to give host national opening addresses at Border Security 2016 in Rome

5 reasons why CEOs must care about safeguarding nature

Clean air is good for business

The AI doctor won’t see you now

Eurozone: A Sluggish economy offers no extra jobs

Resolving banks with depositors’ money?

We have a space debris problem. Here’s how to solve it

The European Union is strengthening its partnership with Senegal with €27.5 million

Central Mali: Top UN genocide prevention official sounds alarm over recent ethnically-targeted killings

Aung San Suu Kyi defends Myanmar from accusations of genocide, at top UN court

A Europe that delivers: EU citizens expect more EU level action in future

Why the world needs the youth revolution more than ever

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s