2021 begins with a light at the end of the tunnel – the long awaited Covid-19 vaccine. But a massive logistical challenge looms: distributing the vaccine to 7.8 billion people across the world.

The vaccines must be stored and transported at subzero temperatures, making supply chain availability a “massive concern”, says Heather Gittings, Qlik’s Senior Director of Global Industry Solutions, Public Sector & Healthcare.

The supply chain is “chock full of data at every step”, and analysing it will ensure the effective and accurate distribution of vaccines. She discusses the paramount role of data in the global Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

Tracking supply chain availability

The ‘cold chains’ needed to transport the vaccines, also known as temperature-controlled supply chains, are “plentiful and well-honed”, Gittings says. However, most can’t accommodate the ultralow temperatures required by some Covid-19 vaccines, such as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s.

“To scale distribution at these temperatures, the cold chain will need to be reengineered and reimagined—an effort that takes money and time,” she adds.

Capacity is another challenge. To achieve herd immunity, a minimum of 80 per cent of the global population needs to be vaccinated, Gittings says. Current vaccines require not one – but two shots issued weeks apart, doubling the supply chain requirements.

Qlik works with non-profits like Direct Relief to deliver supplies to disaster areas around the world. It tracks the product temperature throughout its entire journey to ensure it’s maintained at a precise temperature, and is alerted when there are recurring issues, she adds.

Equitable and accurate distribution

The last leg of vaccine delivery is perhaps the most important. “While the long haul tends to get the most attention, it is often those last few miles that pose the most challenge,” she adds.

The process requires “access to data from countless systems along the supply chain to support the monitoring and decision making,” Gittings says. Direct Relief has used Qlik’s data analytics platform to integrate all these different systems into a single pane of view.

Governments also need to have a good handle on population health data, she says. That will help them understand which groups are more likely to have underlying health conditions, and more accurately prioritise the distribution of the vaccine.

Data from previous vaccination programs will also help governments determine priority groups – typically healthcare workers, the elderly, long-term care residents, and citizens with chronic medical conditions.

Countries must not only prioritise the delivery of vaccines by risk, but also by how much supply each locality will need. This can be determined by integrating electronic health records and socioeconomic data, she says.

Qlik works with healthcare delivery systems in countries such as the UK and Australia to gain a full picture of population health, Gittings says. This then enables them to make “informed decisions on prioritisation and delivery” of Covid-19 vaccines.

The time is now

The vaccines are being manufactured rapidly, but a broken supply chain can have deadly consequences. Nations and organisations must work together to tackle challenges around vaccine distribution.

Qlik has partnered with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to release a three-part Covid-19 vaccine challenge series. It’s an open call for data-driven solutions to help the bank’s developing member countries tackle challenges around vaccine distribution, monitoring, and management.

The first challenge is due at the end of January, and $50,000 will be provided to two winning solutions to develop a pilot. Qlik’s software and training will be available to all participants.

The two organisations have also developed a one-stop data application that tracks the effects of Covid-19 on countries, such as pandemic preparedness and response levels and economic impacts.

“We’re embarking on the largest supply chain experiment in our lifetimes,” says Gittings. “With access to the right data along every step of the supply chain, countries, vaccine manufacturers, and everyone involved will have the insight needed to ensure vaccines reach our populations efficiently and effectively.”