The World Economic Forum (WEF) believes that blockchain can help distribute the COVID-19 vaccine because the technology behind Bitcoin provides an immutable, decentralized database that can help all parties be sure that vaccine supplies are stored and handled properly.
Vaccines have traditionally taken years to develop. But, the two vaccines to be deployed, which were developed by Moderna and Pfizer, have taken only months. “One of the biggest challenges is still ahead–how to distribute this vaccine to every living person around the globe,” writes the WEF.
The vaccines present unique challenges: Moderna’s vaccine requires a temperature of minus 20 degrees celsius for long-term storage and the Pfizer vaccine requires an environment of -70 Celsius and only keeps for five days in regular refrigeration.
According to the WEF, blockchain could help vaccine recipients “rest assured” because it makes it possible to monitor and verify proper vaccine storage. “Blockchain technology allows multiple parties to manage and share a decentralized database,” writes the WEF. “These parties can create and share a transparent source of truth that can be mutually agreed upon.”
Blockchain has been proposed as useful infrastructure for supply chain management, because it is not owned by anyone and provides a generic standardized protocol that all participants along the supply chain can join and share relevant data. The blockchain is immutable, so information published to the ledger cannot be deleted, only appended.
WEF also highlights the ease with which read/write access permissions over the blockchain. While some participants have read-only access, others can determine which information is shared with which parties. A blockchain-based platform allows “the full track of each and every item in near real-time, including additional information, as required.” In other words, blockchain-based supply chain management is efficient and reliable.
Blockchain could provide for increased participant accountability, accuracy in tracking items, fighting potential counterfeits, complications in stock management, and more. “[B]lockchain’s greatest advantage in this case would be the immutability of the storage conditions data,” writes the WEF.
The temperature requirements for vaccine distributors would be required to ensure proper storage conditions and to prove they were met by recording the data on an immutable database could provide the proof, “removing beyond a shadow of the doubt that the vaccines are safe and effective.”
WEF adds: “With every vaccine monitored over the blockchain, each link along the chain could keep track of the entire process, and health departments could monitor the chain as a whole and intervene…”
Moreover, manufacturers could track whether shipments are delivered on time to their destinations; distributors could provide a more efficient delivery tracking platform, including storage requirements verifications, and would be the first to know and notify if things go wrong. Additionally, hospitals and clinics could better manage their stocks, mitigating supply and demand constraints and could guarantee vaccine authenticity and proper storage conditions.
“Such efforts could help streamline the distribution of the much-needed vaccine – saving lives – and help reduce vaccine hesitancy, a problem that the World Health Organization named on of the top 10 health threats facing the globe in 2019.”
WEF doesn’t believe the problem to implement this is a technical one, for many blockchain companies have implemented blockchain for supply chain use cases due to perceived commercial and cost saving incentives, and mentions Orbs, which has been working with a Fortune500 company on a supply chain to track counterfeit goods.
“The difficulty does not lie in the technology, but rather in building and enlisting all of the multiple players to take part in the solution,” writes the WEF. “It is in essence more of a political hurdle than a technological one.”
WEF adds: “While it is still unclear how long it will take until the vaccines are available for every last one of us, it is most certain that their supply chain must be closely monitored. Particularly for the COVID-19 vaccine which the entire world needs desperately, proof of proper storage recorded on the blockchain is indeed priceless.”
Of course, questions remain not only about the safety and efficacy of rushed vaccines, but, also, the true scope of the pandemic (and, thus, if a vaccine is needed whatsoever). Countries like the US and UK have mobilized the military to distribute the vaccine. Is this necessary? Furthermore, as blockchain is implemented into the world’s supply chains, questions of privacy come into play.