India has developed an open-source digital infrastructure for vaccination & certification
For any nation today, vaccination against the Covid pandemic is no longer a choice but a sine qua non for immunity against a virus that refuses to abate. Perhaps this explains the frenetic pace at which countries are taking up the vaccination drive. We may debate on the efficacy of a vaccine in taming a virus that brought the world to its knees, devastating nations and economies. Worldwide, the Novel Coronavirus and its mutating strains have affected over 149 million people, claiming 3.13 million lives. But it’s the same vaccine that has offered a semblance of hope to pull lives back to normal gear.
More than one billion vaccines have been administered worldwide (the figure swells as we read this). India has opened the vaccination programme for the youths in the age bracket of 18-45 years with states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Odisha volunteering to bear the costs. However, vaccine distribution continues to be lopsided with some countries yet to get a single dose. Eighty three per cent of the shots have gone into the arms of people in high and upper middle income countries- only 0.2 per cent of the doses have been administered in low income countries. Africa lags other continents in vaccination rate, with some of its nations yet to kick off campaigns to inoculate people.
Isn’t this a disturbing trend? To quote WHO Chief Tedros Adhano, “We are nowhere near the vaccine administration levels needed for global herd immunity, new variants of concern are emerging and we still do not know how long current vaccines remain effective and whether yearly or other periodic boosters are necessary”. If low and middle income countries (LMICs) do not catch up in the scale of vaccination, it has grim repercussions on the global economy. A study commissioned by the ICC Research Foundation suggests that if LMICs continue to have inadequate access to Covid-19 vaccines, global economic losses could accumulate to between $1.2–9.2 trillion, and more than half of this could fall on the High Income Countries (HICs).
Policy & Logistics Challenges in Vaccine Overdrive
True, the mass vaccine rollout for containing the Covid pandemic has mounted an enormous challenge of making the dose available to the last mile. From the R&D lab to the warehouse and finally to the jab of the beneficiary- the challenge at each step is daunting enough. The challenges fall under three Ds- development, dissemination, and deployment. Addressing these three mandates authorising safe and effective vaccines, monitoring effectiveness during and after vaccine deployment, ensuring equitable vaccine access globally, manufacturing sufficient quantities, maintaining supply chain capacity and securely transporting and delivering vaccines. Having said that, there are bumps on the trail to the last mile delivery. Many first-generation vaccines need ultra-cold chain technology. Against this requirement, 20 per cent of the world’s poorest countries lack ample cold chain capacity. The scenario raises some key questions. Like, how have nations planned Covid vaccination? Who are the targeted beneficiaries and how to inoculate them? How to track beneficiaries and address vaccine logistics issues?
The coronavirus vaccine has been developed four times faster than the mumps vaccine. And, owing to this pace of clinical development, governments and policy makers had less time than before to execute a robust vaccination programme. The narrative is laden with policy challenges. But it is also possibly the biggest logistics challenge the world is confronting today. All actors in the ecosystem from manufacturers to policy makers are scrounging for solutions on cost, transportation, distribution and equitable access (of vaccines). Most vaccines may require at least two doses, perhaps the second to be administered after a certain number of days and this compounds logistics and supply difficulties. Managing this knotty trail is not doable by manual intervention alone.
End-to-End Digital Solution for Vaccine Democratisation
An end-to-end automated digital solution promises to offer real time visibility on the entire vaccine administration chain from production to consumption. The solution has the potential to create a dynamic list of beneficiaries, prioritise last mile delivery, identify vaccination centres for enrolment, finalise vaccination delivery points, register beneficiaries, validate payments by beneficiaries, confirm their vaccination with digitally verifiable credentials and ensure traceability of beneficiaries and manage adverse events (if any) post inoculation. For example, British authorities quickly issued recommendations against the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in individuals with a history of serious allergies after two severe allergic reactions were observed in the first weeks of the vaccine's deployment in the US and the UK. In another digital driven pandemic management effort, some freight companies have minimised the risks of Covid-19 vaccine cargo tampering by conducting enhanced background checks, utilizing remotely operated digital locks, installing loud alarm systems, ensuring that vial pallets are unmarked, closely tracking shipments, and even holding training on responding to vaccine cargo attacks for drivers.
Catching up in digital efforts, India has developed an open-source digital infrastructure for vaccination and certification (Divoc). Divoc is part of India's Co-WIN platform (used for Covid vaccination) and has been already used at scale within India. Leveraging real-time analytics to manage features like beneficiary identification, transaction management system, beneficiary authentication, vaccination certificate management, dosage management, and fraud detection has already issued more than 100 million digitally verifiable credentials.
One of the key takeaways of digitally enabled solutions is that they empower nations to democratise the availability of vaccines with minimal wastage and strengthen beneficiary feedback with a tamper-proof database. This digital data will define new engagement between nations as Covid phobia wanes and social distancing gives way to social commingling.
The author is Founder & CEO, CSM Technologies
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed are the author’s own, and Outlook Money does not necessarily subscribe to them. Outlook Money shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly.