Jan 28 2021

How IT Solutions Support COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Chain Logistics

RFID tags, Tiberius software and collaboration tools are among technologies supporting vaccine distribution.

The process of tracking, storing and distributing millions of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine is a monumental undertaking, requiring an array of IT tools to coordinate and maintain fluid supply chains.

As healthcare providers grapple with the rapid and unprecedented mass development, distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines, they are turning to technologies such as RFID tags and 2D barcodes, which can encode vaccine identification information to help reduce errors and make vaccines traceable.

The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which must be kept at subzero temperatures, creates an additional logistical feat for distribution. Temperature-controlled containers and connected devices for measurement, notification, tracking and insight are required, with each box of vaccines equipped with a GPS beacon, a temperature monitor and a barcode.

That data information streams into the federal government’s Vaccine Operations Center in Washington, D.C., while a software program, Tiberius, has been created to monitor the orders and track the vaccines. Tiberius even crunches the numbers on population prioritization, such as recipient age, to determine which states need how many vaccines for each stage of the rollout.

Partnerships and Technologies That Enable Vaccine Logistics

Internet of Things devices also have a role to play: reporting authenticated pickup, delivery and chain of custody steps; detecting any unauthorized interventions; and supporting dashboard monitoring capabilities with key performance indicators.

The Vaccination Credential Initiative, announced Jan. 14, also aims to improve digital infrastructure for coordination and record-keeping. It represents a broad partnership of public and private stakeholders ranging from Cerner and Epic to the Mayo Clinic and Microsoft.

That type of collaboration and coordination among multiple partners and technologies is key. No single piece of technology can, on its own, ensure the success of this type of initiative, including COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, says UPMC CIO Ed McCallister.

In his own health system, McCallister pointed to collaboration tools such as Office 365 and Microsoft Teams, combined with more recent partnerships with UPMC’s biometrics vendor, Certify, that together make up an important part of UPMC’s online vaccine scheduling system.

“Managing the flow of data and maintaining its integrity is critical,” McCallister says. “We have made strategic investments in analytics and our clinical data warehouse to enable our clinical analytics team to support our data needs with the state and others.”

RELATED: RFID solutions improve safety during COVID-19.

Because all versions of the vaccine so far require two doses, with an interval of at least three weeks between each shot, end-to-end inventory management is vital. Providers must be able to assess how many doses are available and track post-vaccination for vaccine efficacy and possible patient side effects.

To that end, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a personal app called V-safe, which will allow people who have received the vaccine to directly report any side effects or lack thereof. It marks the first time such an app has been created to allow people to directly report side effects of a publicly available vaccine.

Support End-to-End Vaccine Alerts With a Notification Engine

One factor that could support the rollout, according to Sara Jost, global healthcare industry lead at BlackBerry, is a mass notification engine that could send and receive notifications as the vaccines travel along the supply and distribution chains.

“This would allow each group — from pharmaceutical distribution, government, healthcare administration, healthcare workers and patients — to have easy and accurate communication,” she says.

For example, if a new shipment of vaccine went in transit, the pharmaceutical company would notify the federal government, which would then notify each state of the pending arrival. From there, states would notify hospitals of the shipment specifics, and hospital administrators would then inform staff about when the shipment would arrive.

Finally, healthcare workers would notify the next prioritized group of patients when to come in to receive the vaccine.

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