COVID vaccine brings renewed hope, challenges
COVID-19 has now plagued the world for more than a year, but there’s an end in sight. In December of last year, the U.S. administered its first COVID vaccine and has since delivered millions more. After such an extended period in lockdown, people are eager to get vaccinated, putting immense pressure on manufacturers and supply chains.
There are now three authorized COVID vaccines in the U.S., with more currently undergoing clinical trials. Vaccinations are happening on an immense scale, but demand still outweighs supply. With COVID-19 continuing to claim lives every day, medical organizations and authorities must ensure fast, widespread distribution.
To vaccinate enough people to achieve herd immunity, all involved companies must optimize their manufacturing and supply chains.
Challenges With Scaling up COVID Vaccine Distribution
Vaccines, particularly the authorized COVID-19 ones, face some unique challenges that regular products don’t. Scaling up to meet demand is possible but far from easy. Most of these issues arise from where vaccines come from and the regulations that surround them.
Most vaccines, like the Johnson & Johnson one, use modified viruses and genes to train immune systems to fight COVID-19. Since they rely on growing biological material, production can only happen so fast. Newer alternatives, like the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, require highly specialized machinery, which most manufacturers don’t have on hand.
Partnerships between pharmaceutical companies could help, but antitrust regulations restrict many such endeavors. Some governments have waived or are considering waiving these restrictions, though, which will help scale up production. Even amid all these challenges, manufacturers and logistics companies can take steps to optimize distribution.
The first step in ensuring a more effective vaccine rollout is streamlining the manufacturing process. In an industry as highly regulated as pharmaceuticals, production involves a lot of testing and quality assurance. Automated data analysis tools can make these processes more efficient.
Automated analytics systems can analyze data inputs thousands of times a day, enabling faster, more accurate testing than manual alternatives. With these tools, COVID vaccine manufacturers don’t have to sacrifice speed for quality control. Workers will have more time to focus on value-adding tasks, and regulatory compliance won’t take as much time.
Vaccine manufacturers can also outsource some less technologically demanding processes to other facilities. For example, other manufacturers can fill bottles or handle packaging. When vaccine producers don’t have to manage these tasks in-house, they can focus on scaling other steps.
Securing the Cold Chain
Once produced, COVID vaccines face another set of challenges in the supply chain. Since demand is so high, pharmaceutical companies need to ship doses as quickly as possible. Two of the three authorized vaccines also have extreme temperature requirements, making transportation more challenging.
To enable more efficient, safer delivery of these sensitive products, supply chains have turned to the Internet of Things (IoT). Logistics companies use wireless sensors to monitor location and temperature data in vaccine shipments. These IoT devices alert them if there’s an issue so they can adjust their course, avoiding product loss.
Some hospitals have started using blockchain technology to protect their vaccine shipments further. These immutable, transparent digital ledgers verify all the data that stakeholders need to consider. That way, they can be sure of where shipments are, what their temperature is and that there’s no fraud.
Optimizing COVID vaccine rollout doesn’t end at delivering shipments to hospitals. Researchers continue to test vaccines after approval to monitor for anything that didn’t come up during trials. Using tech to track any side effects or updates in efficacy can help inform vaccine producers of any changes they may need to make.
Some organizations have also launched blockchain-based vaccination records to provide a reliable source of whether someone is vaccinated. These systems will help reduce virus transmission by acting as a vaccine passport, where only inoculated people can use some facilities. Since blockchains are anonymous but transparent, this reduces privacy concerns and lowers the risk of fraud simultaneously.
Two of the three authorized COVID vaccines in the U.S. require two separate doses. Similar tracking technology can help patients and health care organizations see who needs which dose. These systems will ensure everyone gets the help they need and prevents potentially harmful mix-ups.
Efficient Manufacturing and Logistics Can Save Lives
Many, if not most, of these strategies are ideal for companies outside of the pandemic, too. Things like IoT tracking in the supply chain or automating data analysis can make manufacturing and logistics far more efficient and less wasteful. When it comes to something as crucial as COVID vaccines, these advantages are life-saving.
These pharmaceutical companies are helping eliminate the pandemic by embracing better business practices. Adopting cutting-edge technologies to optimize manufacturing and the supply chain paves the way for effective vaccine rollout. As these practices ramp up, the U.S. will be able to meet the surging demand for vaccinations.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, a magazine exploring how innovations change our world. She has over 3 years’ experience writing articles in the industrial and tech sectors.