How technology can help meet the challenge of our lifetime
As several COVID-19 vaccines near regulatory approval in the U.S., the E.U., Japan, and other countries, governments around the world must establish systems to ensure effective and equitable distribution within their countries. At Microsoft, we have been working with public and private sector organizations around the world to help support this monumental task.
In some ways, the challenges related to the distribution and administration of the COVID-19 vaccine are similar to other vaccines. There are logistical challenges of supply procurement and demand forecasting, distribution, adverse reaction tracking and reporting, and integration with immunization records. But there are unique challenges as well: fair allocation, prioritization and phased eligibility, registration, tracking, as needed cold-chain storage supply, and the need to vaccinate a critical mass of the world’s population of over seven billion people in short order during a global pandemic.
This is a complex and multifaceted challenge. Government and public health officials will need to track multi-dose vaccinations, assess how public skepticism may impact demand, and coordinate with hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, pharmacies, and other vaccination sources to ensure public safety. This is on top of all the other challenges health workers are grappling with during the pandemic which includes overloaded hospitals, lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), staff suffering from burnout, and much more.
The World Economic Forum states that logistics around the COVID-19 vaccines are “The challenge of a lifetime” and that to achieve global distribution, “technology will play a vital role in ensuring the smooth execution along every step of the supply chain … currently, no platform exists that covers all those visibility needs.”¹
“The goal is to enable a fair, equitable, and efficient distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine,” remarks Dr. David Rhew, Microsoft’s Worldwide Chief Medical Officer. “In response to this urgent need, we need a secure and interoperable platform that balances the complexities of the registration, scheduling, and supply chain distribution, with the broader public health mission to deliver a safe and effective vaccine in a prioritized manner.”
How technology can support this global challenge
In our discussions with public health officials and customers, we have identified several imperatives that any vaccine management offering should include:
- Purpose-driven solutions designed for a fair, equitable, and efficient procurement and distribution of the vaccine.
- Comprehensive use cases that support cold chain supply chain management, patient/provider/clinic registration followed by a phased vaccination scheduling and management with forecasting tools. The platform also needs to enable automated reporting to local, regional, and national agencies related to vaccination progress and capture of potential side effects from the vaccine.
- Leverage existing data systems and interoperability standards to facilitate rapid implementation at the lowest cost. By leveraging interoperability standards such as HL7/FHIR, clinical data can be shared in a scalable manner.
- Security, privacy, and compliance are non-negotiable characteristics of any platform used by public sector and health entities.
Partnerships are essential to meet the challenges ahead
Given the scale and complexity, no single government or organization can solve this vaccine distribution challenge on its own. It will take strategic alliances, an ecosystem of delivery partners, and interoperable technology offerings that are secure, transparent, and can scale to meet global demand. Data and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions will be especially important to provide insights and enable public health and government officials to make informed decisions about the virus and facilitate cross-agency collaboration, enable remote work, and deliver trusted services without interruption.
At Microsoft, we have a proven track record of partnering with governments, public health agencies, healthcare organizations, pharmaceutical companies, logistics providers, and other key stakeholders to tackle tough challenges. In the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, we observed a massive influx of inquiries related to concerns about COVID-19 flooding health care agencies. This led to subsequent overloading of call centers and the crowding of urgent care clinics and hospital emergency rooms, which further increased the risk of spreading the infection. To address these urgent issues, we partnered with governments, public health agencies, and healthcare organizations across the globe to develop and deploy AI-based chatbot technology that could deliver individualized COVID-19 guidance. Today, over 680 million individualized COVID-19 messages have been delivered worldwide since March. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has adopted Microsoft technology and delivered over 37 million messages in October alone.
This same bot technology has been adopted by pharmaceutical companies and researchers to enable large-scale recruitment of donors for clinical trials. With the “The Fight is In Us” campaign, Microsoft in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is partnering with academic medical centers, plasma companies, national blood donor organizations, and several other stakeholders to advance the study of convalescent plasma to improve outcomes for patients with COVID-19 infection.² Microsoft is also partnering with Adaptive Biotechnologies to facilitate the evaluation of the immune response in patients exposed to COVID-19 as part of the Immune Race clinical trial.³
Through a collaboration with the American Hospital Association, Kaiser Permanente, Kearney, Merit Solutions, and UPS, we are facilitating the equitable donation and distribution of PPE and other medical supplies to places that have the greatest need.⁴
For decades, Microsoft has cultivated a robust ecosystem of technology partners from global system integrators to local independent software vendors. These partners build industry-specific solutions using Microsoft cloud services and other technologies. Microsoft’s Data and AI technologies, Business Applications, and Modern Workplace offerings can provide powerful analytics, relevant applications, and collaboration tools—and those capabilities are amplified when they are customized by Microsoft’s partners. Today, Microsoft Consulting Services along with several of Microsoft’s partners are helping public health customers address aspects of COVID-19 such as contact tracing, testing, return to work, return to school, and most recently the planning and preparation for vaccination distribution and administration.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says “We are adopting a first responder mindset across the company, working with so many customers on the front lines, including governments, health providers, schools, food suppliers, and other commercial customers critical to the continuity and stability of services in every country.” Let us work together during this pandemic to embrace the power of digital, and the power of human innovation to move global vaccination further forward so not only are COVID-19 vaccines available and accessible to all but come when people truly need them most.
We will continue to do our part to help our customers and the global community address this historic challenge.
Microsoft is committed to supporting public health and safety by equipping governments with the resources they need. For further information, use these resources: