The Role of IoT in Keeping Vaccines Safe

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November 29, 2021 | By Stéphane Loiseau, Director of Global Business Development Operations, Sigfox

The pandemic made clear the need for equity in access to vaccines. In fact, G7 leaders met earlier this year to discuss just that. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “leaders recognized that no country can be safe until every country committed to develop and distribute effective tests, treatments, and vaccines around the world.”

The COVID-19 pandemic showed just how quickly vaccines can be distributed, but it also highlighted how quickly supply chains need to adapt to major global events. Given how essential the vaccine was, it was critical key players in the supply chain took the steps needed to ensure storage conditions were maintained at the correct temperature to remain effective.

While cold chain monitoring is nothing new—especially in the food industry—the truly historic scale of the pandemic and vaccine distribution made the healthcare industry one of the most important applications for cold chain monitoring solutions in the past year. Here are two ways the Internet of Things (IoT) can help ensure vaccine safety for COVID-19 and beyond.

VISIBILITY ACROSS THE SUPPLY CHAIN JOURNEY

One major challenge pharmaceutical distributors are faced with is the internal management of thermostatic packaging and monitoring solutions to avoid temperature excursion—and subsequent vaccine loss—given they are not provided by all vaccine manufacturers.

Prior to 2020, in the medical field alone, the cost of losses linked to the breaking of the cold chain was estimated at $35 billion, according to the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science.

Enter integrated communication technologies that can provide visibility into a vaccine’s status at every point in its distribution journey—from a manufacturing plant all the way to it being administered.

Sensors connected to IoT networks can be placed on packages or pallets containing vaccine doses to continuously collect data throughout the supply chain, increasing visibility and helping supply chain managers identify weak links, like a location where temperature excursions repeatedly occur. This gives those tasked with managing the supply chain insight into problems early on, so they can address the problem before significant loss occurs.

IoT sensors using a 0G network to collect and send their data can be easily retrofitted directly on packaging and continuously monitor temperature status in a cost-effective and energy-efficient manner. Pharmaceutical distributors should consider this an opportunity to offer additional value and quality assurance to the health departments, medical unions, or hospitals they work with given they would need to identify resources to manage the disposal of any wasted vaccine on top of additional procurement, inventory management, and reporting.

GLOBAL BENEFITS

While the distribution of vaccines presents challenges worldwide, it becomes an even more complex undertaking in developing countries and extremely hot climates, where temperature excursion can occur more frequently.

Many of the technologies traditionally used for tracking and monitoring temperatures—like WiFi, Bluetooth, and 4G/LTE—remain expensive for developing countries. Luckily, IoT solutions designed to be as simple to implement as possible—especially those on the 0G network—provide a cost-effective option that requires little training.

In addition to temperature monitoring, IoT solutions can be used to better monitor supply in developed countries so that the redistribution of supplies to other countries in need of vaccine doses can occur as soon as possible. While vaccine access is not an issue limited to the COVID-19 pandemic, global access to COVID-19 vaccines is critical to ending the pandemic worldwide.

Distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has shown how quickly supply chains can adapt when the right technology is available to ensure safe and effective delivery of goods. IoT solutions provide a cost-effective way for healthcare and pharmaceutical companies to gain the visibility into the supply chain needed now—and in the future—to ensure vaccines across the globe are kept safe.