Published on Investing in Health

How blockchain technology delivers vaccines, saves lives

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Photo: Francis Ato Brown / World Bank

Imagine that today is a vaccination day in a rural health facility in Nigeria. About 25 mothers are sitting in a waiting room to get polio or DTP3 shots for their children. A health worker is about to deliver bad news to the waiting mothers: vaccines are out of stock, and three vials that have arrived are spoiled. Some mothers have traveled from afar and may not return later.

While this is a hypothetical scenario, it’s not unrealistic. In Nigeria, mean vaccine wastage rates are between 18 and 35%. UNICEF found globally that 33.3%of storage units in high income countries and 37.1%in low-income countries contained vaccines that were exposed to temperatures below recommended ranges. How can we manage this process more efficiently?
Blockchain technology can save lives
Blockchain technology is a possible solution. Blockchain is a real-time digital ledger that allows any user to find out who owns what, where, and when within the supply chain. Vaccines are stored in small containers. One of the means to identify each container and its contents is to use a QR code (special barcodes that provide information when scanned) and an internet connected device (to communicate with other devices and individuals) that enables GPS location and internal temperature tracking.
The success of immunization programs requires several processes to work together smoothly. The supply chain is too complex to be taken for granted, with vaccines changing ownership from manufacturers to distributors, re-packagers and wholesalers before reaching its destination. The pharma industry is actively looking for best tactics to implement this in practice. And we must to be part of this process!
Typical benefits sought through blockchain use in supply chain management: 

  • Increased efficiency
Blockchain provides a platform to improve managerial efficiency through automated decision making; minimizes vaccine wastage; exploits economies of scale; and keeps pace with evolving best practices in management and technology.
  • Reduced cost
Blockchain provides a platform to avoid deterioration of vaccines due to disrupted cold chain.
  • Scalable and able to withstand high amounts of data;
  • Verifiable and auditable in real time.
Vaccine supply chains involve complex procedures, logistics, storage facilities, vehicles, refrigerators, freezers, and other equipment involved in getting vaccines from where they are manufactured to people who need them. Before a vaccine reaches a child, it takes a long journey. An excellent supply chain is like an orchestra, for which innovative technology should be the only conductor. However, outdated vaccine supply and distribution systems are delaying and limiting the impact that vaccines have on people’s health.

Government-run vaccine supply chains often struggle to:
  • maintain vaccine quality throughout the supply chain;
  • ensure vaccine availability at service delivery points;
  • mobilize the financial resources required to upgrade logistics systems as needed;
  • keep pace with evolving best practices and technological advances in supply chain management.
In response to these challenges, blockchain technology can provide a cost-effective solution.
If we imagine the health worker in the rural facility in Nigeria, this time with blockchain technology implemented to deliver the vaccines on time, the health worker has good news for the waiting mothers: their babies can be safely inoculated with vaccines that were stored at the right temperature and delivered on time, right when they were needed.


Oleg Kucheryavenko

Consultant, Health, Nutrition and Population

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