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Pfizer vaccine in bottle

NHS hospitals use blockchain to help manage Covid-19 vaccine rollout

Image credit: BioNTech SE 2020 via Reuters

Two NHS hospitals in England are adopting blockchain technology to keep track of their Covid-19 vaccination equipment, all of which require precise degrees of cold storage to maintain their efficacy.

Warwick and Stratford-Upon-Avon hospitals are among the facilities in the South Warwickshire region adopting the technology. The facilities are working with digital asset-tracking provider Everyware and distributed ledger provider Hedera Hashgraph to monitor the cold storage equipment being used to store doses of the vaccines.

The three Covid-19 vaccines approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) must be stored under certain conditions. The Oxford/AstraZeneca and Modern vaccines require freezers or refrigerators. However, the unopened Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can be stored at centralised distribution centres and transportation units for 10 days at -70±10°C, and in hospitals and other administration centres for five days while refrigerated at 2-8°C.

This presents a complex logistical challenge, particularly when attempting to accelerate distribution of the vaccine at a time of extreme pressure on NHS services. Distributing doses of the vaccine to many small administration centres such as GP surgeries introduces more 'touchpoints' during which there is an increased risk of exposing the vaccine to high temperature, while shortages of basic PPE could risk wasting batches of the vaccine.

The vaccines will be monitored at the 'last mile' by Everyware’s software, which can be configured to monitor variables such as temperature from any location. This will allow the NHS facilities to ensure that the vaccines are being maintained at the right temperature from the point they are delivered until they have been administered.

“Everyware has already demonstrated their capability as a trusted partner, helping us monitor the integrity of a wide variety of clinical applications,” said Steve Clarke, an engineering manager at South Warwickshire NHS. “As we begin to prepare the rollout of these new Covid-19 vaccines, with the specific temperature requirements, we recognise the importance of utilising their same tracking and monitoring capabilities.”

Hedera, which provides distributed ledger technology, is being used to record and validate results securely. This allows certainty that the data, once entered, cannot be tampered with.

The two NHS hospitals had previously experimented with using Everyware’s software to track other substances with precise storage requirements, such as blood, plasma and chemotherapy drugs. However, the initiative is among the first in the world to rely on blockchain technology.

A wider rollout is planned as vaccine distribution progresses.

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