How healthtech innovation can make the Covid-19 vaccine rollout a success

The vaccine rollout brought about a short-lived sigh of relief. There was immediate doubt around vaccine safety and efficacy. This was then overshadowed by some healthcare workers refusing to take it. 

We’re now at a worldwide shortage, while somehow thousands of doses are simultaneously going to waste. Manufacturing and distribution have slowed. Bad handling of vaccines threatens patient safety. In low-income countries, these obstacles are amplified. 

With more than 150 Covid-19 vaccines in the works, there are high hopes that these problems will be solved. A boost in the number of vaccines would solve the shortage, but could potentially add to the underlying cause of many of these hurdles: data management. 

Age, demographic, underlying health issues, storage and transportation of the vaccine, wasted doses. Without the successful tracking and communication of this data, the vaccine rollout will continue to falter. 

It’s not just what we’re administering. It’s how we administer it.

The vaccine is deemed as safe and effective, as long as guidelines are followed. But as we’ve seen, the slightest change in temperature, timing control, or lack of due diligence and population data can result in thousands of vaccines going to waste, or negatively impacting patients. 

There’s an unfortunate lack of adherence to the temperature and timing controls. We’re seeing providers allow exposed or thawed vaccines to be used long after the time restriction ends. Thousands of vaccine doses go to waste due to lack of temperature control. Healthcare staff push dosing timings beyond the requirements for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to extend their vaccine allotment.

All these instances put public and patient safety at risk as they significantly diminish the vaccine’s effectiveness upon use.

This isn’t a new problem. The WHO estimates that more than 50% of vaccines go to waste due to poor storage facilities, but even then we can’t be sure of how much Covid-19 vaccine waste there is. 

Vaccine safety is one element of the rollout. A second, less-considered aspect, is the products we use to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine, which also need to be tracked. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires a diluent. A specific needle size needs to be used. A certain syringe size. The multiple components and products that can affect the vaccine are as important as the vaccine itself.

The pain point of the vaccine rollout that needs remedying
In the short term, we need to track the vaccine efficacy, the ongoing safety and storage of vaccine doses, and effective distribution and administration. But in the long term? Healthtech and reliable and accurate databases need to be shared internationally to verify who is vaccinated and ensure that patients given a first dose of the vaccine need their second dose within the specified amount of time.

The manual tracking and recording of data relies on perfection from humans, which is not guaranteed. One wrong move and adverse events can ensue. Vaccination cards are being lost. Second appointments for the dose are being missed. We’re unsure of the cause behind adverse events. These one-off events are becoming more common.

We need scannable codes. Unquestionable data recording. Real-time communication between different health authorities and systems on all levels in multiple countries. We saw this play out with traceability apps and defective and limited PPE that was supposed to protect healthcare workers. Now let’s look at how to change the pattern.

Make data accessible, accurate and efficient for a better vaccine rollout
So how can healthtech solutions actually change the way we manage and use data, and ultimately save the Covid-19 vaccine rollout?

Replace inefficient practices with more effective technology. Technology’s main benefit to us is to make processes easier, quicker, and more accurate. AI and machine learning in particular are considered useful tools for trend recognition and data capture.

By using workflow automation tools, manufacturers and healthcare facilities can eliminate manual processes that prove to be inefficient and ineffective. 

According to an independent study conducted by the CDC, using barcode scanning for data recording and communication can lead to a large increase in vaccine record accuracy, as compared to manual data entry. One in 5000 records are missing or inaccurate when scanned, as opposed to a much higher 1 in 9 records with manual entry.

An average 21 seconds can be saved per vaccine by switching from manual to scanned data entry. These time savings can add 12 or more new vaccine appointments weekly. 

Digitize and collate information for patients and providers
We’ve discussed the gargantuan amounts of life-changing data involved in the vaccine rollout. Healthtech solutions can be employed by manufacturers, distributors and healthcare facilities to monitor the storage and use of the vaccine, diluents and supplies. 

The first batch of vaccines arrived in December. A smiling, proud hospital staffer takes a photo of open vaccine vials to share over social media. Just like that, hundreds of dosages are ruined. This happened in one American hospital, as the excitement of the first vaccines engulfed us.

Applications allow providers to easily present product information (like Instructions For Use & Emergency Use Authorizations) and clearly outline compliance procedures to make it easy for staff to follow. A lack of guidance can result in serious vaccine waste. 

Digitized post-vaccine information (return date/time, dose received, etc.) reduces the risk of patients not returning for the second dose within the required timeframe and keeps the administrators informed of vaccine success. All information is stored in one centralized location, that can then hold use for other departments. Which brings us onto the final point…

Connect and utilize available databases to understand the full picture 

The vaccine is being delivered to 195 countries, with different databases and healthcare systems. There are 13 FDA databases that include information regarding medical recalls alone, others for adverse events, and different states have different healthcare systems. And that’s just in the US. 

Healthtech solutions help us bring together data from different healthcare organizations, manufacturing and distributing facilities, and government departments into a centralized location. When managed correctly, this data can be shared and used in a confidential and beneficial way.

Linked applications can allow healthcare facilities to record and track adverse events and medical recalls to improve patient safety at the point of care. But the current communication gap between organizations means this critical information is not easily accessible by providers at the point of care/administration. 

Healthtech companies can provide an easy and integrated way to present these recalls so that defective and expiry vaccines are not used on patients. Crucial touchpoints between government, manufacturers and healthcare providers can be established by improving communication and database accessibility.

There are countless types of databases and variables we’ve noted that need to be tracked and used.

Healthtech does the job that no human can replace: data collecting, tracking, and automation, at an unchallenged speed and accuracy.

Photo: Pixtum, Getty Images

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