COVID-19 vaccines are here, but are governments prepared for vaccine management?

Economic recovery from COVID-19 will require governments to invest in technologies that support long-term vaccine management, including health credential verification

By | 3 minute read | January 28, 2021

The economic upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating. Harvard University economists have estimated the economic cost of the COVID-19 pandemic to be a staggering $16 trillion in the United States, which represents about 90% of the country’s annual gross domestic product.1

While the pandemic continues and community restrictions remain in place, several industries are suffering severe economic consequences. Examples of estimated financial losses by industry include $118 billion in 2020 and $38 billion in 2021 for the global airline industry2, $13 billion sales loss in US sports3, and $14 billion in live theater revenue in the US4.

Governments recognize that time in addressing economic recovery is a critical factor. The longer the pandemic closes doors and income opportunities for industries, there will be less money in circulation supporting businesses, less tax revenue for communities and fewer jobs for the people governments’ serve. A key to fast-starting the economy will be managing vaccine deployment as effectively and efficiently as possible.

3 ways technology can help communities with vaccine management

State governments have been tasked with managing vaccine distribution and have made a good start.   Now, the new federal vaccine plan provides a boost to the 50-state model. States have been using a complicated IT infrastructure to facilitate this monumental effort. They’re using a combination of websites, dashboards, scheduling systems, third-party apps, hotlines – and even event management software – to enable citizens to obtain vaccinations.5

Technology can be a catalyst and force multiplier in at least three dimensions:

  1. Data and information transparency. The US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has announced increased funding to help connect clinical systems with immunization registries through a connection with Health Information Exchanges (HIEs).6 While this is limited to the handful of STAR HIEs, it can demonstrate the value of greater use of information exchange. In addition, the recently finalized health information interoperability rule will ensure more efficient information exchange by payers, including Medicaid and Medicare, providers and all healthcare stakeholders, as Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and other mandates are achieved in 2021 and future years. Enabling near real-time analytics is essential today and into the future.
  2. Supply chain security and efficiency. Guidance from policy experts – such as the World Health Organization’s “Effective Vaccine Management” system – has emphasized the importance of coordination among commercial and public stakeholders to protect the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain. Security requires vigilance, and especially during a pandemic. IBM created a threat intelligence task force to track down COVID-19 cyber threats against organizations that are keeping the vaccine supply chain moving. As part of these efforts, this team uncovered a global phishing campaign targeting organizations associated with a COVID-19 cold chain.7 A vaccine distribution network, powered by IBM blockchain, can help manufacturers, distributors, dispensers and citizens to reduce risk and trust vaccine distribution across public and private entities.
  3. Verifiable credentialling. One of the most immediate opportunities, credentialling, enables individuals to securely share verifiable health credentials, including vaccination status. For example, IBM Digital Health Pass is built on IBM Blockchain technology and is designed to enable organizations to verify health credentials for employees, customers and visitors entering their site based on criteria specified by the organization. But here is an example of where not all technologies are created equal, while some analytics tools can do this, I urge organizations to adopt solutions that put control of health data – a person’s most private information – in a system that meets the highest privacy and security standards.

These are just three dimensions of how I believe technology can help communities further address the COVID-19 crisis and be a catalyst for a return to society. It all starts with leaders making investments in technology that can help them make decisions about recovery now and plan for whatever comes next.

  1. Cutler DM, Summers LH. The COVID-19 Pandemic and the $16 TrillionVirus. JAMA. 2020;324(15):1495–1496. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.19759
  2. IATA press release no. 95: Deep Losses Continue Into 2021, Issued Nov. 24, 2020
  3. Bloomberg. U.S. Pro Sports Prove Big Enough to Handle $13 Billion Sales Hit, by Brandon Kochkodin, Nov. 5, 2020
  4. Americans for the Arts website, accessed Jan 20, 2021
  5. “States rely on wide range of IT systems to manage COVID-19 vaccines” by Kat Jercich, Healthcare IT News, Jan. 14, 2021
  7. “IBM Uncovers Global Phishing Campaign Targeting the COVID-19 Vaccine Cold Chain” Security December 3, 2020 | By Claire Zaboeva co-authored by Melissa Frydrych