Health informatics

How technology can help in Covid-19 vaccination, Health News, ET HealthWorld

by Sanjay Gupta

With India recently opening the Covid-19 vaccination for people above the age of 18 years, efforts are underway to increase the supply of vaccine across the nation to contain further spread of Coronavirus. Given the huge population of more than 135 crore in the country, it is a mammoth task to ensure that vaccines are safe during the transit and arrive without any issues at their intended destinations. Pharma companies and health authorities of India are taking relevant steps towards this.

Problem of counterfeit vaccines and certification
Counterfeiting and tampering with medicines that are costly and in high demand, like antibiotics and vaccines, has been happening for some time now. Even before the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that around 10 percent of all medicines sold in low and middle income countries, are substandard and falsified. Counterfeit drugs are a serious threat to patient safety with dangerous side effects and may lead to other health problems.

In November 2020 report, Europol found that the distribution of substandard and counterfeit pharmaceutical products, including Covid-19 vaccines, remained a consistent criminal activity related to the pandemic. These fake vaccines can circulate on illicit markets and may be introduced to legal markets for distribution.

In India, the issue of fake vaccines and medicines is more difficult to solve. There is an acute absence of consumer awareness to get invoice for every medicine purchased. With a weak surveillance and vigilance system, solving the issue of counterfeit drugs becomes an unimaginably hard task.

Another important aspect is the vaccination certificates – document that establishes that a particular person has been inoculated against a certain disease. Vaccination certificates have been used since long for diseases like hepatitis, polio and measles among several others. For Covid-19, vaccination certificates are especially important as this would help the authorities in authenticating the person’s health status for activities like movement across borders, returning to work or school/college, permission to travel etc.

However, paper-based certificates can bring in several disadvantages including being prone to fraudulent activities. They would make tracking vaccine status of a huge population far from efficient especially at different checkpoints across the country. Technology can help in bringing in contactless tags that can work as verifiable certificates along with all the required medical history and information of the person concerned.

Technology to protect vaccines
Covid-19 has led to a wide acceptance of technology that is convenient and requires less or no direct human contact. Technology can also be used effectively to ensure authentic Covid-19 vaccines are transported safely across the country. The risk of counterfeiting and vaccines going to unauthorized channels can be substantially reduced by the use of Near-Field Communication (NFC) and High-Frequency (HF) RFID tags. These electronic tags can help in tracking shipments and verifying their origin to confirm the authenticity of the vaccine. To protect against any unauthorize opening and possible contamination, tamper-evident electronic seals and labels can be used with vaccine packaging at the point of manufacturing.

Many vaccines and medications, including insulin, are temperature-sensitive and need to be kept within a given temperature range while in transit or storage, or they can’t be used. COVID-19 vaccines fall into this category, and need to be kept below a certain temperature to remain viable. NFC tags equipped with temperature monitoring features can be used to track the vaccine’s storage environment and indicate if the shipment has been exposed to out-of-range temperatures.

Verifiable vaccination certificates
Technology can also help in issuing verifiable vaccination certificates which is important to keep a track of population’s health, especially in a highly populous country like India. With Covid-19 vaccine made available to age groups of 60+ years and 45-59 years, the Government of India has recently opened the vaccine for people in the age group of 18-44 years. This move allows the majority of the country to opt for vaccination but also creates a vast need for verifiable vaccination certificates.

Contactless NFC tags offer a secure and easy-to-deploy solution for issuing verifiable vaccination certificates. The NFC tag will make it easy for authorized medical institutions to update the vaccination status of patients and issue a proof that can be easily verified whenever required. This can make vaccine verification easy at checkpoints like borders, school, offices and public venues. It can also help in connecting vaccination details to the patient’s identity without any risk of exposure of personal data through encryption.

E-passports have already been run on trial basis and the government is planning to introduce e-passport for all citizens. Covid-19 vaccination details can also be made a part of e-passports and help in assessing the person’s health status. This could help the authorities in regulating the travel of potentially infected patients or high-risk people who have not been vaccinated yet.

To mitigate the problem of counterfeit vaccines and its certification, various solutions/products like NXP’s NTAG DNA, NTAG TagTamper, NTAG SmartSensor can be highly beneficial.

As India is battling the pandemic with rapid vaccination on the national scale, it is crucial to protect the authentic vaccines, delivering them successfully at the medical centres and eliminate the chances of counterfeit vaccines entering the system. There is also a need for verifiable vaccination certificates that can report vaccination status in a secure manner. Technologies, like NFC and HF RFID tags, can provide the power to perform these activities in a safe and efficient way.

Sanjay Gupta is the Vice President & India Country Manager, NXP Semiconductors

(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETHealthworld.com does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETHealthworld.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly)

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