Originally published in InsightsCare.
Across the globe, governments and healthcare institutes are embarking on an unprecedented challenge: the distribution of billions of COVID-19 vaccines. Over the years, healthcare has become increasingly digitally enabled, from virtual appointments to wearables in clinical trials.
Even the development of these groundbreaking vaccines—which were created and approved at record speed—was made possible by significant innovation and technology advancements. Now, in order to distribute the vaccines successfully, the healthcare industry will once again need to turn to technology.
For every step, from transportation to vaccine tracking, new technology and software will need to be developed and adopted. Unfortunately, with vaccine distribution already underway, healthcare institutes need to act fast to combat possible problems.
Vaccine Distribution and Coordination
To embark on the widespread vaccine distribution plan, there are several challenges facing healthcare, beginning with patient matching. Since there are currently two vaccines approved in the U.S., patient matching will need to consider both the logistics of using each vaccine and the patient’s needs. In terms of logistics, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at a lower temperature, making it more challenging to distribute.
Currently, it has been mostly reserved for healthcare professionals, as they can receive their vaccine close to distribution centers. For the larger population, healthcare systems will need to consider how to get it to the general public. There is also the matter of ensuring that the vaccine is appropriate for each patient.
Healthcare records may need to be more widely shared to ensure that vaccine administers know the patient’s health history and to understand which vaccine will work best for them. This means that data sharing regulations need to be updated and data security needs to be prioritized.
Since both of the U.S.-approved vaccines require two separate doses at specific intervals, technology will also need to be implemented to ensure patients are getting the correct second dosage at the appropriate time.
Appointment scheduling apps will be important for ensuring that a patient doesn’t miss their appointment, and regular text and email reminders will need to be sent. Healthcare facilities will also need to pay careful attention to their supplies to ensure that they can administer the correct dosage when it’s time. This means that they will need to use technology to track their supplies. When the general population begins to receive their vaccinations, there will be many more patients to contend with. This means that tracking patient appointments and the vaccine doses is critical.
Using mRNA molecules for vaccinations is a relatively new concept and the COVID-19 vaccine is the first time that it’s been widely used. This means that information sharing is important for tracking reactions, as well as combating misinformation.
For example, the deaths of elderly patients in Norway following the Pfizer vaccine have caused concerns for many individuals. Since this is the first time a reaction this severe has been documented, it’s important the doctors share this knowledge and use it to inform patient matching.
At the same time, experts need to ensure that these adverse reactions don’t impact people’s decisions on whether or not to get the vaccine. To achieve widespread immunity, around 80 percent of the population needs to receive the vaccination. Fears, misinformation and questions need to be quickly addressed.
Currently, social media is being primarily used by the healthcare community to showcase their vaccine journey and combat possible misinformation. This has helped spread messaging and further participation in the conversation. It’s also helped to create more transparency into the vaccine process — something that may help build long-term trust in the healthcare industry.
Despite the importance of this vaccine, there will undoubtedly be those who choose not to get it. In the U.S., this accounts for about 40 percent of the population. Although the vaccine cannot be mandatory, businesses and governments are starting to think about the restrictions that may need to be in place for non-vaccinated people in order to continue to keep the general population safe.
This means that a form of vaccine tracking, or passport needs to be in place to inform the community about who has not been vaccinated, who has only received their first dose and who is fully covered. This creates an interesting dilemma for the healthcare community, as they will need to balance issues of privacy with public safety.
The healthcare community is not known for being able to adapt quickly to change. Unfortunately, time is of the essence when planning for the impending distribution strategy. This means that healthcare will need to rely on trusted vendors to secure technology infrastructure and may need to collaborate on finding the best solutions. From vaccine transportation to reaction tracking, each phase of the process needs to be secure, efficient, and scalable to ensure that the U.S. can adequately combat the pandemic.