As mass vaccination programs against COVID-19 become increasingly critical to many governments' strategies for pandemic management, blockchain firms are acting fast to propose ways in which the technology could offer solutions to some of the logistical hurdles involved.
Blockchain company StaTwig — a graduate of the UNICEF Innovation Fund — was already trialing its blockchain-based solution VaccineLedger in 2019, in both India and the United States. Fast forward to 2021 and the global vaccination drive against COVI-19, the company has now partnered with Indian IT giant Tech Mahindra to roll out the solution worldwide.
VaccineLedger is focused on improving the transparency of vaccine supply chains at the vial level, aiming to predict and prevent issues such as stock expiry, counterfeiting, quality control and availability. Just days after an attempted vaccine swap deal between Israel and the United Kingdom failed to come together — resulting in the imminent waste of 1 million Pfizer doses — the need for such a solution is more conspicuous than ever.
StaTwig's solution supports the integration of smart contracts and IoT technologies in order to detect products due to expire and ensure temperature control for sensitive units. By partnering with Tech Mahindra, StaTwig will draw on the company's expertise in resource scale and system integration in order to support the solution's implementation worldwide.
In addition, both companies have co-developed enterprise several security modules for the solution's mobile and web application, designed to meet the various requirements of manufacturers and governments in different jurisdictions.
The challenges faced by various countries remain uneven: in the United States, millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses are currently at risk of expiring this summer due to vaccine hesitancy in many states. Most countries in the Global South face an even more critical problem — a lack of vaccines altogether. Whereas countries in the Global North account for 85% of shots administered worldwide, the lowest-income countries currently account for just 0.3% of vaccine doses administered to date.
While a globally integrated, efficient ledger solution cannot overcome vaccine inequality, whose roots are political, it can aim to help global actors mitigate the worst effects of waste, red tape and delivery delays due to logistical inefficiencies. In areas where vaccines remain scarce, these efficiency gains could help to ensure that what little is available is swiftly and maximally used. Tech Mahindra's Rajesh Dhuddu has clarified the product's scope and goals, stating:
“Wastage of life saving drugs such as vaccines should be addressed on priority and we need to come together in order to effectively find a solution here. Our strategic partnership with StaTwig will provide supply chain participants with a single application to enhance traceability, and chain of custody. This will not only ensure safety and validity of vaccine supply but also help in adherence to complex regulatory requirements, set up by Drug Administration Authority in any country.”
As previously reported, the U.K.'s National Health Service has already used, at a limited scale, a system based on Hadera Hashgraph to monitor vaccine cold storage. Meanwhile, blockchain technologies are being used to manage vaccination records and digital health passports.