The challenges & tech needed for COVID-19 vaccine distribution: 7 things to know

As pharma giants including Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech make breakthroughs in their COVID-19 vaccine developments, healthcare officials are facing tech and data challenges associated with widespread distribution.

Both Pfizer and BioNTech and Moderna this week reported their vaccines are 95 percent and 94.5 percent effective, respectively. When administered, these first vaccines, which use mRNA technology, will require two doses over multiple weeks.

Here are seven things to know about the challenges surrounding widespread COVID-19 vaccine distribution and the tech needed to solve them.

1. The mRNA vaccines must be stored at subzero temperatures, which has left some hospitals and health authorities searching to find special freezers to accommodate. Pfizer developed a special container that keeps shots cold during distribution and created its own supply chain for distribution, according to the Wall Street Journal.

2. The mRNA vaccines also require two doses given three to four weeks apart to generate the correct immune response. Because of this, providers will need systems to track patients and ensure they get both doses and at the proper time.

3. Providers will need a comprehensive system to log shots they administer to patients and also schedule follow-up visits for patients' second shots. Salesforce and Deloitte are developing a new application for $16 million to support vaccine registries, according to Politico.

4. Patient matching, or the process of ensuring the correct individuals are being administered the proper shots, is still a big issue for distribution. The government must ensure providers report standard data to help sort out any discrepancies, Ben Moscovitch, a health IT specialist at Pew Charitable Trusts, told the Politico. 

5. To streamline the patient matching, the CDC this month began issuing data use agreements, which disclose what information providers report to local and state governments as well as the data those governments then send off to the federal government.

6. Eleven states have yet to sign a full version of the agreement, citing that the requests violate their privacy laws or are unnecessary. The CDC said 49 states are committed to the agreements or are in progress of signing, Politico reports.

7. President-elect Joe Biden's transition team needs access to the Trump administration's COVID-19 information, which includes real-time data on therapeutics supply and plans for vaccine dissemination, according to a Nov. 18 letter to President Donald Trump from the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association and American Nurses Association. As of Nov. 18, President Trump has not formally conceded the election and has declined to begin the official transfer of power and key information.


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