Blockchain has been one of the revolutionary technological interventions in recent times, especially in response to Covid-19. Most recently, blockchain technology has found a promising application in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccine program by the NHS in the UK. Blockchain basically serves as a system for decentralizing databases alongside distributing them throughout a whole network of computers.
The world witnessed the power of blockchain with the arrival of Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies. Subsequently, there are many applications in enterprise blockchain use cases, especially for improving transparency of supply chains and creation of secure records which could not be modified by a particular individual. Now, blockchain is all set to power up the UK vaccine program for combating one of the deadliest pandemics.
Blockchain Power Ups UK Vaccine Program
Covid vaccines have to be stored at extremely cold temperatures to ensure effectiveness. For example, the Covid vaccine by Pfizer must be stored at temperatures in the range of -60 degrees Celsius to -80 degrees Celsius. After thawing and only with simple refrigeration, it would be good for only five days at 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius. Such temperatures appear colder than winters in Antarctica.
Another Covid-19 vaccine approved for use in the UK is the one by the UK-Swedish drug company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. It can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures. The third vaccine approved for use in the UK comes from the house of a biotech giant, Moderna. The vaccine shot by Moderna must be stored at -20 degrees Celsius.
The special conditions for storing the Covid-19 vaccine shots create the need for innovative measures to monitor the temperatures in which the vaccines are stored. Therefore, the logistics in UK face additional concerns, especially with the constantly accelerating vaccine rollout in the UK. As of January 2021, over 4 million people have been administered the first dose. Furthermore, the government plans to vaccinate almost 80% of all people over 50 years and clinically vulnerable adults by the first half of May in the UK vaccine program.
Everyware-Hedera Collaboration and UK Vaccine Program
The British technology company, Everyware, has taken up the task of monitoring the temperature of different NHS refrigeration units.
According to Tom Screen, the technical director at Everyware, the storage of drugs in the proper way is essentially critical. He also added, “The integrity of data regarding ongoing temperature in NHS refrigeration units is also important for developing trust in results.”
In addition, the integrity of data helps in sharing the data regarding current temperature in refrigeration units throughout the vaccine supply chain. Everyware is leveraging sensors and the power of cloud computing for remotely monitoring the temperature in NHS refrigeration units. Screen said that hospitals could receive automated alerts when specific refrigeration units go out of the specified temperature range.
Data security, particularly with NHS facilities, is another prominent factor that is highlighted in the operations of Everyware. The state-owned health service encountered one of the most serious cyber attacks in recent times in 2017. In addition, NHS also faced flak for failure in preparing for hackers in a parliamentary report. So, Everyware turned its attention towards blockchain security with Hedera to resolve its concerns of cybersecurity.
Hedera Hashgraph, a US-based blockchain platform, is the ideal solution for ensuring tamper-proof record storage. Blockchain initially served as a digital ledger for supporting the operations of Bitcoin. Subsequently, it has found applications across various industries beyond the realm of finance. Hedera is basically a blockchain consortium with the backing of notable names such as IBM and Google.
Tom Screen said that the UK vaccine program would benefit largely from the Everyware-Hedera collaboration. He stated that the sensors of Everyware would ensure real-time monitoring of temperatures in the refrigerators that store vaccines. Subsequently, Everyware transmits data to its personalized cloud platform, followed by encryption of the data before passing it to the blockchain network of Hedera.
Role of Blockchain Technology in Vaccine Program
The basic objective of using blockchain technology in this operation is the maintenance of tamper-proof digital records about temperature-sensitive vaccines. As a result, hospitals can easily identify any irregularities in vaccine storage prior to the administration of vaccines to patients.
According to the CEO of Hedera, Mance Harmon, it is the perfect choice for the UK vaccine program. He said, “A tamper-proof record-keeping system that could be shared throughout the vaccine supply chain plays a crucial role, especially for Covid vaccines”. Harmon believes that the decentralized computer networks having hundreds or probably thousands of participants play crucial roles in various aspects related to pandemic management. For example, blockchain technology can help in fighting against vaccine counterfeiting through creation of immutable vaccination certificates.
One of the renowned experts on blockchain, Jillian Godsil, has focused on the element of trust introduced by blockchain. According to Godsil, the pandemic has created a lot of insecurity and blockchain have found their true calling now. She said, “People could lie and even institutions and governments. However, blockchain never lies”. So, Godsil states that people are placing their trust in blockchain technology for safeguarding their health, apart from their wealth.
Blockchain witnessed profound growth in hype in 2017 with the rise in value of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Therefore, many companies and governments capitalized on the capabilities of blockchain for replacing their old and outdated paper-based record-keeping mechanisms. However, the attention around blockchain dipped down subsequently without any blockchain-based products or trials by large corporations. On the other hand, the blockchain for supply chain traceability applications and other enterprise applications continue to keep blockchain in the news.
Tom Screen responded to questions on reasons for adopting blockchain rather than a regular database. He said that data in a private database is easily verifiable in comparison with the state of data documented on the public ledger. Screen added that an immutable ledger provides the benefit of verifying data validity with close reference to source data. As a result, blockchain technology can impose a profound positive impact on ensuring accuracy throughout downstream analytics. In such cases, any error in the source data could escalate in output data sets, and blockchain resolves the concerns.
Two National Health Service hospitals in South Warwickshire, England, have employed the blockchain-based tech for the UK vaccine program. Everyware participated in an open tender process for winning the bid to provide blockchain-based technology services for monitoring Covid vaccine refrigeration units.
Where Would Blockchain Technology Take the Covid-19 Vaccination?
Blockchain, the suitable technology for recording encrypted transactions, has found exceptional applications in Covid-19 vaccination giving rise to blockchain for healthcare solutions. Now, hospitals could use the same technology for tracking sensitive medical assets having particular storage requirements. Everyware has already made a name in the facility of tracking services for plasma, chemotherapy drugs and blood. The association of Hedera in the UK vaccine program would provide the assurance of trust and efficiency for hospitals.
Most important of all, the benefits of blockchain technology could ensure appropriate use of vaccines. In the long run, blockchain technology can simplify significant domains of pandemic management. For example, blockchain has already found applications for different aspects in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. The Digital Health Pass application by IBM for verifying the vaccination or negative test results of Covid-19 shows the efficiency of blockchain in transforming the way we deal with Covid pandemic.