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How data mapping can make distribution of COVID-19 vaccines more efficient

As public health bodies continue to give the green signal to new vaccines with the distribution process beginning in earnest, Rajit Bhattacharya, CEO, Data Sutram explains how location technologies can be an essential tool to optimise the supply chain, identifying where vaccines need to go and how to deliver them in the designated places

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Vaccines are everything when it comes to combating COVID-19, and the effective application of the same commands an even greater importance. We have witnessed massive investments and global collaborations along the lines of research and development, the prerequisite to developing a viable vaccine. Now the issue lies in meeting unprecedented demand as providing access to the vaccines for all who need them is a great challenge.

According to the World Health Organisation, the absence of a judicious plan to streamline vaccine delivery will result in a mismanaged and inequitable distribution. This means that there will hoarding in some places and intense shortage in others, resulting in price spikes and all kinds of hurdles. To that end, data mapping is one of the best answers to this imbroglio, and there is certainty that it will help facilitate efficient distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

Data mapping can help identify communities that are relatively vulnerable and needy, thereby playing an instrumental role in reducing mortality rates

While the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is a universally welcome initiative, it is important to distribute it systematically as different places have different narratives of requirements. For instance, there are huge discrepancies in terms of vulnerability rates. Some places feature a denser population, wider and more intensive disease spread, and unavailability of medical resources. Evidently, regions with such characteristics require more priorities. Therefore, acquiring data of virus spread, population density, and availability/unavailability of medical faculties will go a long way in formulating an efficient distribution of vaccines.

Priority around needy demographics aside, Data Mapping can also simplify distribution efforts by optimising resource management. Detailed data of facilities and resources across an area can help in designing an effective model of approach. For instance, it is essential to be aware of the population, hospitals, clinics, and affluence of an area before distributing. Failing to exercise the same will inevitably result in an ill approach as the amount of resources and efforts assigned should be proportional to the population and demand of an area.

Solving the logistics challenge and navigating the vaccine cold chain

Following the announcement of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca as viable vaccines, worldwide attention shifts from research and development to distribution, thereby throwing in the issue of logistics and cold chain. Therefore, the need of the hour lies in optimising and strengthening supply chain management. To that end, the answer lies in reinforcing operational visibility and leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and real-time data analysis tools to help logistics companies collect data throughout a product’s manufacturing and distribution process.

Regarding the case of the vaccine cold chain, the amalgamation of IoT and geographic information system (GIS) can mean a big deal as they can be instrumental to preventing losses. This is to say that vaccines are fragile products and degrade very quickly, meaning that they should be kept within a prescribed temperature range to preserve their potency.

In a nutshell, it is all about identifying and filling critical gaps. The cold chain, albeit its specialised equipment and processes, is an inherently inequitable system. It naturally favours high-means communities with the necessary precursory elements at their disposal – efficient transportation options, consistent power supply, and a trained workforce. Therefore, to facilitate an equitable distribution of vaccines, it is vital to identify regions and populations that lack the amenities mentioned above. Doing so will help ensure vaccine accessibility and enable distributors to come up with smart maps highlighting coverage gaps.

Providing a location-based solution

It is needless to say that COVID-19 does not confine in a particular location. In fact, being contagious and ubiquitous is its notorious trait. This aspect engenders the need to come up with geographic pathways to enable a global recovery. Unlike the virus, the vaccine has limited mobility due to limited supply routes, courtesy of the cold chain. As such, location intelligence will be a great enabler in identifying where vaccines need to go and how to deliver them in the designated places.

Therefore, as public health bodies continue to give the green signal to new vaccines with the distribution process beginning in earnest, location technologies can be an essential tool to optimise the supply chain.

To conclude, the urgent need of the hour is to develop solutions to streamline efficient distribution of vaccines. The global community is faced with the mammoth task of making COVID-19 vaccines accessible to billions of people, and data mapping is one of the most effective steps to streamline this effort. As things stand, much of transport and logistics rely on one core metric, which is ‘location’ that can influence last-mile delivery of vaccines to distribution centres. All in all, we are talking about “the power of where,” a defining factor in the fight against COVID-19.

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