COVID-19 vaccines are dominating the news in 2021, and distributing these vaccines around the country and the globe is key to managing our ongoing global pandemic. To get the vaccine distributed, companies and the government are turning to technology to help out.
The United States alone has almost 330 million people. Experts believe that between 70% and 90% of the population needs to be vaccinated before we achieve herd immunity and the virus is stopped or completely eradicated. That means 230 to 300 million people need this vaccine in the U.S., and that number grows exponentially given the world population of over 7 billion.
Technology is a major factor in an undertaking of this size. If this vaccine distribution took place just a decade or so ago, we would have few of the tech solutions we are leaning on in 2021 to accomplish this Herculean task. To help give you a better understanding of what technology is doing to help the vaccine rollout, here is a primer on data loggers, freezers, and other key vaccine distribution technologies.
The two currently approved vaccines in the U.S. from Pfizer and Moderna are made from messenger RNA (mRNA). This fragile genetic material must be kept extremely cold from the time the vaccine is created to the time it is thawed to be administered to patients. mRNA vaccines must be distributed through the cold chain, and that means data loggers will play a huge role.
Data loggers are sensors that monitor environmental conditions like temperature, humidity, and pressure. Many of the data loggers today are internet-connected and part of the Internet of Things (IoT). This allows the people and institutions in charge of this distribution much more transparency and control of the temperatures the vaccine is shipped, stored, and distributed at.
Data logger technology is critical to many types of cold chain distribution. Dickson notes here that vaccines are just one type of sensitive material where data loggers play a key role in monitoring. They are also critical in the distribution of food, beverages, healthcare products, and other pharmaceutical drugs.
As mentioned above, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines need to be kept very cold because of the mRNA they contain. This means -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) for the Moderna vaccine and an incredible -70 degrees Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit) for the Pfizer version, requiring technological equipment that can maintain these severely sub-zero temperatures.
This is where deep freezer technology comes in. Designed to keep pharmaceutical products incredibly cold, these freezers have special, double insulated walls and are capable of reaching temperatures as low as -86 degrees Celsius (-123 Fahrenheit). Only a handful of companies in the world make these specialized freezers, including publicly traded companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific and Avantor and privately-held companies such as Helmer Scientific, Stirling Ultracold, PHC, and So-Lo.
The US alone needs hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines in all 50 states, covering almost 3.8 million square miles and 41,689 zip codes. Think about what this means in terms of the planes, trains, and motor vehicles a single dose will pass through to get where it needs to go. This requires a great deal of tracking.
The organizations tasked with distributing the vaccines need to know where the vaccine doses are at all times, making GPS technology critical in this process. Every box of vaccine that is shipped is equipped with a GPS beacon which allows each batch to be tracked from point of origination to final destination. Without this technology, it is almost certain there would be many batches of vaccines lost in transit–bad for the rollout, and bad for our nation’s health.
It isn’t enough to simply get the vaccines where they need to go eventually. It is vital that these vials get there as quickly and efficiently as possible. One way technology is helping that happen is by using artificial intelligence (AI). AI allows logistics providers to collect data to track how the rollout is going and make improvements to make it faster and more efficient.
A perfect example of this is the collaboration between Microsoft and FedEx to create the AI-driven data analytics software called Surround. This platform uses IoT technology from FedEx to collect data and AI, machine learning, and analytics solutions from Microsoft to analyze that data. The data includes weather and mapping data from FedEx routes to make the process smoother and more efficient.
Resource Planning Software
Operation Warp Speed, the government initiative created to get the vaccine distributed as quickly as possible, has a secret weapon in its arsenal: Tiberius, a specially-designed resource planning software. This platform was a joint effort between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Defense Department.
The platform takes data from the U.S. census, the companies making the vaccines, and U.S. shipping and logistics companies, and helps plan how the vaccines will be allocated across the country. The software is now being used to allocate the limited amount of vaccines equitably across 64 different jurisdictions made up of U.S. states, territories, and large cities. As more of the vaccine becomes available, Tiberius’ algorithm will make sure it gets to the areas it is needed most.
Technology makes the world go around. If that wasn’t already apparent in 2021, the vaccine distribution has cemented this truism. Getting the vaccine to the people who need it is one of the most important undertakings in history. Luckily, technology is helping make this process smoother, quicker, and more orderly. Tech like data loggers, deep freezers, GPS, AI, and resource planning software are the innovations driving this process and the keys to having it succeed.