Many have hoped that 2021 will be the year we inch closer towards having our everyday lives back, despite many of us remaining in lockdown, as our respective governments introduce new measures to prevent the spread of the new variant.
In an ironic twist of fate, life in 2020 was largely defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, a virus that has inflicted pain and suffering, upended people’s livelihoods, and devastated economies worldwide.
Perhaps, there is reason to be optimistic. Since November of last year, several companies have announced COVID-19 vaccines that are ready to be distributed throughout the world.
This means that the possibility of returning to some semblance of everyday life may become a reality, once the world’s population largely becomes immunized to the virus. Of course, this will take time, but we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
As a person deeply involved in blockchain, it would seem that the proliferation of COVID-19 vaccines is somewhat irrelevant to my field. However, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.
After all, I am a firm believer that the functionality of blockchain technology goes beyond payments and exchange of value. Blockchain has the potential to encompass all facets of our everyday lives – even the ones we take for granted.
New challenges require new trustworthy solutions
To understand the role that blockchain can play in our fight against the pandemic, we have to look at the challenges we are currently facing with regard to vaccines. One of these challenges — and perhaps the biggest one to date — is how we can distribute the vaccines to everyone who needs them.
To contextualize this, we have to realize that the vaccines are not homogenous, and key differences exist between them.
For example, the variants produced by Moderna and Pfizer differ in terms of the conditions they must be stored in. Moderna’s vaccine must be stored at a temperature of negative 20 degrees Celsius for long-term storage. Still, it can be stored for up to one month in a regular refrigerator. In contrast, Pfizer’s vaccine has to be stored at a chilling negative 70 degrees Celsius and can only be stored up to five days in a regular refrigerator.
Taking this into consideration is vital for combating COVID-19, as it is imperative to maintain the efficacy of the vaccines. Thus, the question becomes how recipients of the vaccine can ensure that the vaccines they receive have not been compromised by poor handling and whether it is feasible to scrutinize the conditions in which they have been stored.
Verification of whether a vaccine was handled properly
As an infrastructure that aims to address the issue of trust, this is where blockchain can play a significant role. By allowing multiple parties to manage a shared and decentralized database, blockchain can ensure much-needed transparency that is not contingent on one party alone. This will allow for verification of whether a vaccine was handled properly.
This benefit is compounded by the fact that data stored on a blockchain is immutable and can easily be accessed by participants along the supply chain.
An additional benefit to using blockchain for this endeavor is the fact that blockchains can be customized to allow access permissions where needed. This means that while certain participants can only read the information provided, others may be able to write and disseminate information to whom it may be necessary.
This makes the spread of information and the ability to track each item in real time much more efficient.
Given these benefits, blockchain can be a solution to answer some of the most difficult challenges related to the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Parties could track shipments, verify storage conditions, manage stocks, and verify the authenticity of the vaccines they received. By streamlining the process for distributing the vaccines, we could save countless lives in the process.
An uphill battle
Of course, it would be naïve of me to claim that the challenges we face with regard to curbing the spread of COVID-19 stop, with the implementation of blockchain protocols.
Firstly, we have yet to see these vaccines’ overall efficacy and whether they can genuinely mitigate the virus’s spread and evolution. Caveat made, the public is also concerned about speculative side effects. Secondly, there is the question of whether producers of vaccines can cope with the increasing global demand.
The answer to these issues is unfortunately beyond my expertise. However, I firmly believe that the challenges surrounding the implementation of effective supply chain methods can be eased through the use of blockchain.
Naturally, doing so also poses several obstacles, namely surrounding stakeholders’ willingness to partake in the solutions that the technology offers. Given the novelty of blockchain technology as a practical infrastructure, it may be challenging to convince the movers of the world to adopt a concept that redefines the accessibility of information.
Doing so will require a great deal of education and building of trust – the cornerstones of blockchain.