Coronavirus: UK hospitals use blockchain to optimize tracking of COVID-19 vaccines

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Two British hospitals are using blockchain technology to keep tabs on the storage and supply of temperature-sensitive COVID-19 vaccines, the companies behind the initiative said on Tuesday, in one of the first such initiatives in the world.

Two hospitals, in central England’s Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick, are expanding their use of a distributed ledger, an offshoot of blockchain, from tracking vaccines and chemotherapy drugs to monitoring fridges storing COVID-19 vaccines.

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The tech will bolster record-keeping and data-sharing across supply chains, said Everyware, which monitors vaccines and other treatments for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), and Texas-based ledger Hedera, owned by firms including Alphabet’s Google and IBM, in a statement.

Logistical hurdles are a significant risk to the speedy distribution of COVID-19 vaccines but have resulted in booming business for companies selling technology for monitoring shipments from factory freezer to shots in the arm.

Pfizer Inc and BioNTech’s shot, for example, must be shipped and stored at ultra-cold temperatures or on dry ice, and can only last at standard fridge temperatures for up to five days.

Syringes are prepared for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a nursing home in Bad Windsheim, Germany December 27, 2020. (Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke)
Syringes are prepared for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a nursing home in Bad Windsheim, Germany December 27, 2020. (Reuters/Hannibal Hanschke)

Other vaccines, such as Moderna Inc’s, do not need such cold storage and are therefore easier to deliver.

“We can absolutely verify the data that we’ve collected from every single device,” Everyware’s Tom Screen said in an interview. “We make sure that data is accurate at source, and after that point we can verify that it’s never been changed, it’s never been tampered with.”

Firms from finance to commodities have invested millions of dollars to develop blockchain, a digital ledger that allows the secure and real-time recording of data, in the hope of radical cost cuts and efficiency gains.

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Results have been mixed, though, with few projects achieving the revolutionary impact heralded by proponents.

Everyware’s Screen said it while it would be possible to monitor the vaccines without blockchain, manual systems would raise the risk of mistakes.

The system will “allow us to demonstrate our commitment to providing safe patient care,” said Steve Clarke, electro-biomedical engineering manager at South Warwickshire NHS in a statement.

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