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ROLE OF BLOCKCHAIN IN VACCINE DISTRIBUTION

21 December 2021

Blockchain technology has been an important part of the healthcare supply chain for many years. Its potential to provide greater transparency, security and trust has raised hopes that the industry will be able to reduce the amount of fraud and corruption in the system. Blockchain is a decentralized ledger that is built on top of the Bitcoin blockchain. It allows banks and other financial institutions to share their transactions without having to trust a third party like a private company. Blockchain technology can help with vaccine distribution, as it makes it possible for people who are not able to afford an initial supply to buy a large amount at once. This would help save some lives and reduce the number of deaths from preventable diseases such as polio and hepatitis.

Blockchain technology can help to reduce vaccine distribution costs. There is an opportunity for blockchain to help with vaccination campaigns by reducing the amount of paperwork and manual work involved. In addition, blockchain can be used for tracking vaccine production and distribution, which would make it more secure, reliable, and sustainable.

What is blockchain technology?

The term “blockchain” refers to a kind of distributed ledger technology. While a ledger was traditionally held centrally and protected and managed by a trusted party, a distributed ledger is one that is replicated, shared, and synchronized across multiple sites, institutions, and countries via a consensus mechanism, with any changes reflected simultaneously and instantaneously.

Each new piece of data is digitally stored on the blockchain in what is referred to as a “block.” This block is then connected to the chain’s final block through a hash function. This is what secures the blockchain’s immutability. A hash is a kind of encryption that is impenetrable. This implies that once data is added to the chain, it cannot be erased or modified. This is because changing a single piece of information changes the contents of the block, necessitating the modification of every subsequent block. Due to the distributed ledger technology’s structure, each node in the network will have a copy of the blockchain, and so someone would need to change 51 percent of all nodes simultaneously in order to falsify a record. This provides an extra layer of security over and above a manual system in which a single central ledger is maintained by a single trusted entity.

A blockchain network may be designed in a variety of ways. One is a public “permissionless” blockchain, in which all members may participate in any transaction. All data is duplicated across all nodes, and each node is handled identically. There are also private blockchains, in which only chosen individuals may participate in a particular blockchain transaction. The data is subsequently distributed among predefined nodes in accordance with the protocol.

Supply networks for pharmaceuticals

Blockchain technology has the potential to significantly enhance supply networks. While blockchain cannot account for all possible scenarios, it can significantly reduce the likelihood of chain mistakes. Pharmaceutical supply chains, in particular, are complex, including several players and stages – from the API source through the medication manufacturer, packaging and distribution businesses, and regulators, all the way to hospitals, pharmacies, and, finally, the patient. Having so many middlemen complicates the process and makes it more difficult to trace and assure authenticity, increasing the likelihood that counterfeit drugs may enter the distribution chain. Due to the nature of blockchain, it would be capable of proving the provenance of items and providing increased security.

The deployment of the COVID-19 vaccination

The Covid-19 vaccine roll-out is one supply chain that is attracting a lot of interest at the moment. The UK initiative is well underway, with over 35 million individuals receiving their first COVID-19 immunization and over 18 million receiving their second. The immunizations are presently being delivered at 267 hospitals, 1,034 community vaccination locations, 90 vaccination centers, and 194 community pharmacies, according to a news statement issued by the UK government on February 13, 2021. Due to the extraordinary scale and pace of this rollout, there is an even greater need to guarantee that it is precisely monitored and delivered successfully and securely.

Due to the fact that there are multiple distinct vaccinations with varying storage needs, the COVID-19 vaccines provide additional issues (in addition to those connected with the delivery of any medicine or vaccine). Certain medications need permanent storage at certain temperatures to be effective, and this temperature must be maintained throughout the manufacturing process, distribution, transportation, and at hospitals and vaccination sites. A second problem that requires close monitoring and coordination between suppliers and medical experts is that the vaccinations are not interchangeable at the moment, which means that a patient’s following dosage must be identical to their first dose.

A well-functioning supply chain is thus critical to ensuring the safe, dependable, traceable, and error-free distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

What might the vaccine distribution process look like with a Blockchain-enabled supply chain?

Stakeholders in vaccine development and dissemination include:

  • Suppliers
  • Manufacturers
  • Logistics provider
  • Distributor
  • Healthcare Organizations (HCOs)
  • Public

Blockchain can help with vaccine distribution by:

  • Scaling up distribution protocols for vaccines,
  • Lowering costs for product development and production,
  • Facilitating patient compliance with vaccine distribution plans,
  • Increasing trust in the whole ecosystem of global health care.

Blockchain technology has the potential to provide reliable end-to-end tracking and monitoring of vaccinations and pharmaceuticals across the supply chain. One of the challenges is tagging a physical object, such as pharmaceuticals or vaccinations, with a digital identity. This might be accomplished by imprinting identifiers on the goods, such as barcodes. Along with the identification, they must be tamper-proof to prevent the counterfeit medication from being inserted into the tagged container. This might be accomplished by scanning barcodes at each point of contact and making all relevant data accessible to the manufacturer or regulator (or whoever requires access to that data). Additionally, the data may be made available to parties with limited infrastructures, such as pharmacies or hospitals, who could check the legitimacy of medicine using a barcode scanner. The ‘bokode’1 is an example of a system that is already in use. It is a visual data tag that is just 3mm broad but can contain hundreds of times more information than a typical barcode. They can be read from a few meters away using any basic digital camera, even those used on mobile phones.

If an issue (such as a counterfeit drug or even a faulty or expired drug) is detected using blockchain, the user can examine all previous data entries, touchpoints, locations, and timestamps to trace the product all the way back to its origin, the specific manufacturer, and even the specific batch from which it came. Thus, blockchain would facilitate the tracking and verification of items across the supply chain, as well as the discovery and correction of errors. This would enable the identification and removal of counterfeit, defective, or expired items from distribution to occur more quickly and efficiently. Additional safeguards are embedded into the blockchain: although counterfeiters may still duplicate barcodes, the blockchain will flag any suspicious activity instantly and immutably, and any efforts to change the chain’s data will be immediately visible to all authorized users and may be refused. This not only ensures authenticity in comparison to a manual database, which is more susceptible to manipulation and allows people to modify or delete critical information but also offers methods of validating that an organization that handled the goods complies with regulatory standards.

Additionally, blockchain technology, when linked with the internet of things (‘IoT’) technology, might be used to monitor the COVID-19 vaccination implementation (e.g. temperature sensors). Temperature and storage time monitoring are critical components of the Covid-19 vaccine distribution chain in particular since each vaccine has unique storage needs. Blockchain technology might be used to track the temperature and other critical data during vaccination batch shipping and storage. The system would operate via the use of intelligent IoT sensors mounted on transport containers that would gather, store, and transmit data and save it on the blockchain. Other authorized parties may then instantly examine this information on the blockchain, enabling hospitals, distributors, and regulators to verify that vaccinations were carried and stored safely and effectively.

Conclusion

There are numerous additional potential benefits of blockchain in the context of pharmaceutical supply chains, including the ability to quickly and efficiently identify issues, bottlenecks, and delays, as well as eliminating the risk of double-counting via instantaneous transactions and the use of a consensus mechanism. As mentioned above, blockchain technology may aid in promptly detecting problematic items (e.g., those that are broken, improperly kept, or counterfeit) and also in effectively removing them from the supply chain. To combat the covid-19 epidemic, researchers and clinicians from all around the globe are banding together and working together. On such a global scale, blockchain becomes a single point of reference for sharing and distributing data. Furthermore, Blockchain’s immutability maintains authenticity and makes it a truth ledger. Despite a number of setbacks, Blockchain has shown its effectiveness in the vaccination distribution process. Organizations and concerned stakeholders all around the globe recognize the value of Blockchain and are preparing to use it to create a completely transparent vaccine manufacturing and distribution system.

If you’re seeking advice on the Blockchain supply chain, we’re here to assist. Consult with our team of blockchain professionals to go through your needs.

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