The Covid Vaccine is here, But We Aren’t Done Yet!
Covid-19 needs no introduction. It has been a year since its arrival and has affected millions of businesses and households. The world still continues to cope with its ramifications. With cases on the rise and a new strain in the news, the vaccine seems to be the only solution to the world’s problems, because nobody can be saved unless everybody is saved.
According to WHO, introducing an effective vaccine will prevent the loss of US $375 billion to the global economy every month. There are over 50 candidates developing the vaccine, notable ones being Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech which are being administered in phases while the others are going through the trials. This is the first time a vaccine has been developed in a record time.
"The fruits of science can help defeat this pandemic only if society is working well enough to distribute them quickly and equitably "- Thomas J. Bollyky, Director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations
However, discovering the cure is only half the battle won. The logistics of this immunisation program is going to be a herculean task. Surely so because when was the last time the world’s population had to be vaccinated all at once in such urgency?
What are the Potential Challenges?
The distribution of Covid vaccine is going to be challenging due to a multitude of factors- from the lack of existing vaccination programs for adults to the sheer volume of production.
In addition to this, the vaccine has to be stored at -70°C and be administered in two doses with a significant gap in between. The inadequacy in the cold chain capacity in various countries will have to be addressed. Identifying the vulnerable populations and prioritising the frontline workers who are keeping us safe in itself will be a huge task.
The fact that these vaccines have to reach the remotest, inaccessible locations keeping in mind the mentioned concerns makes it one of the most challenging vaccine distributions. The logistics involved are beyond anyone’s imagination.
“Insufficient last mile connectivity, cooling facilities in the final delivery stages and lack of storage at clinics would ‘pose the biggest challenge’ to delivering vaccines on a high scale, - Abhijit Mitra of ICICI Securities
So how do we even begin to approach this mammoth of a problem?
Role of Location Analysis and Involvement of GIS for Distribution
For any problem that involves achieving supply chain resiliency and operational excellence in a timely manner, visibility and prior planning using technology and data can come a long way. Following are the ways in which location data and analytics can aid:
(1) Identifying the Vulnerable Population
“All this to say that equitable access is key, not equal access and not prioritisation based on factors like wealth and national resources.”- Dr. Este Geraghty, Chief Medical Officer
The current electronic medical record databases are fragmented and in silos. They are arranged for speedy billing and not the identification of the vulnerable population (Source). By identifying where the people with highest risk, co-morbidities and the rate of the spread is the highest are located, we can prioritise those areas.
(2) Proper Route Planning
After identifying who needs to be vaccinated, we have to find the most efficient way to deliver the vaccines. This can be quite tricky with so many variables in the routes. Having a top notch inventory management system will set a strong foundation for route planning.
Questions like - “Where do we need to have the vaccine (i.e., at which dispensing site) and at what time do we need the vaccines at the vaccination centre?”,” What does the connectivity and condition of the travel route look like?”, “Where are the most delays caused?”, “Where do we place our manpower”? Have one thing in common - “Where”. And that speaks volumes about how having access to location data and monitoring it can help us avoid roadblocks (quite literally).
(3) Setting up Vaccination Centres
Vaccination centres are the junctions where the shipment (i.e the vaccines) and the people who get vaccinated meet, hence choosing the most optimum spot is imperative. Delays, shortage of stock and wastage of vaccines will lead to loss of valuable resources and should be avoided at all costs.
We have to choose areas where the delivery can be done easily as well as the area where the population density of people who need it the most are present. Timing is an important factor too. Knowing the peak arrival times will help the centres stock up beforehand, thus avoiding multiple visits.
(4) Addressing bottlenecks on the go
Issues that arise on the go need to be addressed immediately and provisions to set up alternatives should be made. For example: one of the shipment trucks is stuck due to bad weather conditions or is delayed due to an accident.
These alternatives may be setting up a temporary vaccine dispensary or sending for replacement stock.Through dashboards, you can get live updates about where the delays are occurring and keep track of the progress and the efficiency of the plans and work accordingly. They help in providing real-time awareness and transparency.
Here is the video interview we took from Praful Mathur, a logistics and supply chain expert on this theme:
What is the Current Approach?
Various countries are coming up with ambitious plans in order to vaccinate the population. There are huge investments being made among all sectors. Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global alliance, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and similar organisations have joined hands in this fight to make the vaccines accessible to lower-income countries. High scale production and efficient distribution seem to be on top of everyone’s list.
One of the interesting approaches employed by the Indian government is to involve the food processing industry and food delivery start-ups(like Swiggy and Zomato) to identify cold storages to distribute the vaccine. Everyone is in a race against time with limited resources and a constantly evolving landscape.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Understanding location and area specific intricacies allows us to make this process of distribution as successful as possible.
Every country, every city, and every area of the world is as unique as a fingerprint. We will be setting ourselves up for failure if we go by the one size fits all approach. The real world is full of twists and turns and it changes constantly. Hence we must tailor our approach based on the area. Understanding location and area-specific intricacies allow us to make this process of distribution as successful as possible.
According to Accenture, making the best use of advanced data and analytics capabilities is as essential as the syringes and needles that will deliver the vaccines. The added value of the geospatial systems is the missing part of the puzzle. In this mission to vaccinate the world, we have to use every resource at our disposal to make it successful. With millions awaiting this vaccine, let us do everything in our hands to make sure no one is left behind.
We urge the Governments, Stakeholders, and Leaders to come together and leverage the power of data and analytics in what will hopefully be the last leg of the pandemic!