Why do vaccines need traceability?

The year 2020 redefined our way of life and the importance of interdependence. No moratoriums and aids could fill the economic depravity that plagued the world. No bridges could help humanity get through the dark and deep jaws of the notorious and deadly COVID19 pandemic. No brands, no businessman, no leader was enough to end the unprecedented devastation caused by a tiny virus. Yet, the collective prayers, the grit and courage of every person, and the promise of modern science brought with it a glimmer of hope. The collaborative approach for a lasting solution that can save our world has been a lesson none can afford to not learn from the pandemic. As the world still grieves the unimaginable loss of life and economy in the disastrous 2020, the hopeful 2021 brings the much-awaited antidote-the vaccine against COVID19. The COVID19 vaccines, primarily the Covishield and Covaxin, have been making headlines almost every day in India. The vaccines have been not just a remedy to our nation’s woes and a crutch for a fragile system that cannot afford lockdowns anymore, but a matter of pride. In India, more than 1.58 lakhs of people have breathed their last due to the novel Coronavirus. With their efficacy close to 80% and 90%, the Indian-made vaccines vow to ensure that another 1.58 lakh do not suffer a similar horrific fate. As per the Union Health Ministry, the total number of COVID19 vaccine doses administered across the country crossed 2.4 crores. But we have a long battle ahead of us for a country with a population of 110 crores. India has entered the second phase of mass immunization. Indeed, we can now heave a sigh of relief knowing that we are on a path to recovery with vaccines’ availability. But we cannot forget that mass immunization requires tireless planning, authenticity verification, and a robust tracking mechanism. Along with developing tools for safe administration and storage of vaccines, it is time for us to look at digital tracking solutions, tracing and validating the vaccines’ authenticity.

Apart from the COVID19 vaccines, it is crucial to understand that developing nations like India are often plagued with infectious diseases. Vaccination and immunization are cost-effective ways of reducing the burden on India’s limited healthcare infrastructure. Thus, the sobriquet-vaccine powerhouse is fitting for India, which produces nearly 60% of the world’s vaccines and is home to almost half a dozen major vaccine manufacturers. While the COVID19 pandemic has created a sense of urgency for adult immunization in India, it already has an existing surveillance network for vaccine safety. Within this network, every district has a panel of doctors and healthcare workers to monitor people for the vaccine’s adverse effects. Also, India has experience with Polio and Smallpox vaccine administration. But both polio and smallpox vaccines have had specific requirements that do not match the complexity of the COVID19 vaccination drive. To gear up the infrastructure for the large scale of COVID19 vaccine administration, ICMR’s taskforce already boasts of readying a total of 29,000 cold-chain points, about 45,000 ice-lined refrigerators, 41,000 plus deep freezers, 300 solar refrigerators, 240 walk-in coolers, 70 walk-in freezers. Four huge depots across the country, state distribution points, and temperature-controlled vans are some of the few novel arrangements made for the vaccines’ safe transport. The Cowin app aims to track every dose of vaccine administered and tracks the individual receiving the jabs. Despite several security features, the threat of fake vaccines has always loomed over the country.

Why counterfeit vaccines thrive in the world?

Global shortages

Vaccine is the inevitable elixir to survive epidemics and pandemics. Global needs often prompt hospitals to change vendors to overcome the shortage of supplies. The reluctant and need-based shift can aid fraudsters to enter the market. During the peak of the COVID19 pandemic, the shortage of PPE kits urged many healthcare administrators to buy the kits in the grey market.

Cost reduction

Like all essential products, as the demand for a particular vaccine increases, the pay-offs in buying and selling counterfeits also increase.

Preventive measures require time and involvement

Identifying tampering on vaccine vials requires awareness amongst stakeholders across the supply chain. A vaccine goes through trials, cold storages, warehouses, trucks, and finally, reaches a busy healthcare provider. Creating an easy mechanism for authenticity verification will go a long way in ensuring that faulty and tampered vials get reported at every checkpoint.

Adverse effects vary

 Vaccination drives often happen at a mass scale in India. Given that every individual can react to a vaccine differently understanding irregularities in post-vaccine irregularities becomes difficult.

Using IoT, track and trace mechanism and authenticity verification to protect vaccines through the digital medium:

Universal Immunisation Program (UIP) is an internet-based digital system that tracks routine immunization happening across the country. Based on Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN) the system is already linked to 25,000 cold chain storage points across India. UIP tracks the vaccine’s movement, along with providing data on the real-time stock of a particular vaccine, storage temperature, and database of health facilities and outreach stations. To ramp up the security, the government and vaccine manufacturers and distributors can also use 2D, 3D, and QR codes to ease tracking vaccines. COVID19 vaccine drive will witness one of the most extensive public-private partnerships. So, leveraging anti-counterfeit technology providers’ expertise can plug every possible loophole across the supply chain. Track and trace mechanisms can maintain the personal information of the patients through software or cloud-based application. It can store data points like date of manufacturing, the vial expiry date, date of inoculation, and more. Such a mechanism aids in pharmacological vigilance and recall.

Given that some vaccines, including that on COVID19, needs to be administered in phases, and perhaps annually or bi-annually, pharmacological vigilance gains significance. Barcodes, serial numbers, and product codes that can be scanned at every point across the supply chain will ensure that only a genuine product reaches the end-user. Tamper-proof and tamper-evident packaging is another important feature in curbing the counterfeit market of vaccines. Anti-counterfeit solution providers can also aid in overt and covert markers that integrate into the packaging to differentiate a genuine from a fake product. Additionally, the vaccine certificate that people receive can also have codes and markers that allow authorities to check the certificate’s authenticity.

ACVISS believes that now is the right time to raise awareness and collaborate with the government and vaccine manufacturers to provide cutting-edge anti-counterfeit technology for safe movement and monitoring of vaccines and the people who receive these vaccines. Backed with the philosophy that science and technology must ultimately lead to society’s upliftment, ACVISS’s AI and machine learning-based authenticity verification and track and trace mechanism, 2D, 3D, QR, and proprietary codes have aided many pharmaceuticals in supply chain security. Besides, Acviss has a Hyperledger Blockchain technology and an app that is easy to use and download. Providing integrated solutions involving all the stakeholders is the need of the hour to safeguard vaccines.

When a panic-stricken public and desperate nations are in a rat-race to procure and administer vaccines, it is all our moral responsibility to ensure only genuine and safe vaccines are being administered. With many sources spreading rumors over vaccines’ adverse effects, the last thing the nation reeling from the pandemic wants is fake vaccines reinstating the paranoia.