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How big tech is driving global COVID-19 vaccination

The humongous amounts of data that will be generated during the global vaccination process needs to be analysed almost real-time. That's where an integrated SCM suite embedded with emerging technology comes in

twitter-logoBusinessToday.In | December 14, 2020 | Updated 17:00 IST
How big tech is driving global COVID-19 vaccination

After almost a year of being locked-in at home, people in five countries - the UK, Canada, the United States, Bahrain and Mexico - are being inoculated using the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

While that is great news, the entire process of vaccinating billions of people globally is being driven by a clutch of Industry 4.0 solutions that include Blockchain, artificial Intelligence, machine learning and Internet of Things. The humongous amounts of data that will be generated during the global vaccination process needs to be analysed almost real-time. That's where an integrated SCM suite embedded with emerging technology comes in. It has created SCM applications and modules that can be deployed at every stage. It is already working with global pharma for multiple solutions.

"Pfizer uses our clinical trial management solution. That's a major activity from a manufacturer's point of view while Merck uses our data management solution to manage its vaccine development programme," says Hirak Kayal, Vice-President, Applications, Oracle. In addition, GSK runs Oracle's health science, clinical trial and CRM solution while AstraZeneca uses the data repository and clinical trial management solutions for vaccine trials. In India, Aurobindo Pharma uses Oracle's end-to-end supply chain solution and Dr Reddy's uses the CRM solution.

"We are the only ones to have an end-to-end supply chain solution. The cloud solution that we built from scratch, was developed over the last 17 years," says Kayal. Each of the major stakeholders in the vaccination process - vaccine manufacturers, transportation service providers, central and state governments - are plugged into the technology network. That's important because it is estimated that on average, 25 per cent of the vaccines get degraded globally, which is a $34 billion hit for the pharmaceutical industry. That's not something that the industry wants in 2020.

While the availability of multiple vaccines is great news across the world, this is the first time ever that billions of people will be vaccinated in less than a year. There are multiple issues to sort out as the inoculation begins.

The Pfizer vaccine, for starters, need to be maintained at ultracold storage of -70 degrees Celsius across the supply chain. In the US, dry ice manufacturers are working 24x7 so that enough supply can be ensured. Next, countries need to work out logistics of who all should be vaccinated first. The third is ensuring every component of the supply chain starting from supply sourcing, manufacturing, product development, research and shipment to the end user is integrated. Fourth, since people need two doses of the vaccine within a few weeks, keeping track of those who need a second dose is a bigger problem for governments - be it central or state.

The problems in India are much larger, thanks to infrastructure challenges, high temperature and sheer number of people to be vaccinated. Every year, India inoculates on average 58 million children and pregnant women. This year, add to that an additional 300 million people who need to get the COVID-19 vaccine over the next 6-8 months. India also has 27 million people with comorbidities who need to be vaccinated first.

Kayal explains that the Indian cold chain network can at most handle temperatures of up to -25 degrees Celsius, which means the Pfizer vaccine is as good as ruled out. Additionally, the bulk of the vaccination will happen during the summer, when temperatures are anyway high. Also, since demand is many times the supply of the vaccine, there will be threats of counterfeits and black marketing.

In vaccines, it is not just the cold chain traceability (how it has been stored). Each vaccine has a serial number to ensure that it is not a counterfeit. There will be sensors in various devices that includes refrigerated containers, ice boxes. The data that the sensors record will be uploaded to an application to the back-end supply chain application so that adequate action can be taken. Similarly, the entire route that a vehicle carrying vaccines is supposed to take is geofenced. The moment the vehicle goes out of the geofenced route it provides an alert so that immediate action can be taken.

Kayal points out that since humongous amounts of data is being generated, Oracle has installed AI/ML capability that alerts or takes relevant action. So, technology will play a major role in checking if a container/box has been opened, or if the serial number is missing, if it doesn't have the right code or traceability back to the origin. All these play a very important role.

To do that, sensors are installed in various devices - refrigerated containers, ice boxes. The data that the sensors record, needs to be uploaded in an application and has to come to a back-end supply chain application so that action can be taken. As far as the end-user is concerned, the traceability and visibility lets them know that it has come from the right origin and has been transported in a right manner.

To ensure that all this works together there are smart contracts that specify if at any moment the temperature of the cargo exceeds, say 2-6 degrees Celsius it gives an alert. Vaccines go with various certifications. All the data that is generated comes into an analytics dashboard, where shippers and trading partners see what is happening. The smart contract has automated execution by which in case the temperature goes up or vibration crosses a set threshold, it will connect with the supply chain to create a re-shipment order for that particular shipment.

The Blockchain capability creates a network where every participant can upload data, automatically or by logging. The ledger will monitor the sequence of events, which keeps everyone in the supply chain updated.

The roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine is a test for all the technologies that are working together to make it happen. After all, this will be first time that more than a billion people will be vaccinated - that too, in two doses - in less than a year.

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