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CW Innovation Awards: Fighting fake Covid-19 vaccines with blockchain

A blockchain-based system developed by Singapore-based Zuellig Pharma can help governments and healthcare providers weed out fake vaccines and manage vaccine distribution and administration

Fake Covid-19 vaccines distributed by unscrupulous criminals have made their way into the global market in recent months, underscoring the importance of verifying the provenance and authenticity of vaccines.

Earlier this year, South African authorities seized hundreds of fake Covid-19 vaccines following a global alert issued by Interpol, warning that vaccines would be a prime target for criminal networks.

About 2,400 doses of the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, a small city in South Africa, where officers also recovered a large quantity of fake 3M masks and arrested three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national.

In China, the local police identified a network selling counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines, raided the manufacturing premises, resulting in the arrest of some 80 suspects, and seized more than 3,000 fake vaccines on the scene.

To nip the problem in the bud, Zuellig Pharma, a healthcare service provider in Asia, has developed a blockchain-based vaccine management system called eZVax that helps governments and healthcare providers manage all aspects of vaccine distribution and administration.

Developed together with Accenture and built with Microsoft technology, it features Zuellig Pharma’s proprietary blockchain-based eZTracker platform that lets healthcare professionals and patients check the quality of a vaccine and its authenticity by scanning a barcode on a vaccine vial. eZTracker has been in use in Hong Kong, Thailand and the Philippines since April 2020.

In addition, governments can use eZVax, which helped Zuellig Pharma win the healthcare category in the Computer Weekly Innovation Awards APAC, to monitor vaccination progress, track vaccine movements across sites, simulate changes in demand and supply and use real-time data to make decisions on opening additional vaccination sites.

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As each vaccine must be stored and distributed at their required temperature, this full traceability provides the assurance of quality and integrity of supply. Efficient stock allocation is ensured through automated ordering and replenishments, reverse logistics and waste management.

Individuals can also use the eZVax citizen services app to keep track of their vaccination journey from registration to completion, schedule vaccination sessions, complete their eligibility checks and health declarations, set up vaccination reminders and access proof of vaccination.

On security safeguards, Zuellig Pharma said the system is protected by a cyber security framework to secure critical personal and logistical information, noting that this will promote an orderly and effective vaccination of the population while setting up proactive defences against cyber attacks.

Tom Vanmolkot, executive vice-president for distribution and client services at Zuellig Pharma, noted that as more Covid-19 vaccines are approved, each having their own unique requirements, it is crucial to address the challenges that will drive vaccination uptake.

“Apart from proper storage and transport, giving people the confidence to get vaccinated is vital to achieve herd immunity,” he said. “Collaboration is key to address this unprecedented challenge; combining our in-market cold chain expertise and our proven blockchain solution with the resources of leading tech companies will help us support governments to overcome these issues in the communities we serve.”

Scalability and integration

Zuellig Pharma is currently in talks with health authorities across Asia to implement eZVax in their countries, making the scalability and integration of the system with existing healthcare systems a crucial requirement.

And as governments and healthcare providers can choose which features of eZVax to activate and while continuing to use their existing applications through Zuellig Pharma’s application programming interfaces, many customisations had to be developed.

To roll out ezVax in a short time frame, Zuellig Pharma adopted a three-phase approach to design, implement and support the system. 

“The deployment of the solution was entirely driven by the arrival of the vaccines into the countries, there was no room for delay and failure was not an option,” said Daniel Laverick, head of SAP and IT solutions at Zuellig Pharma.

“By collaborating with our key technology partners, we formed a strategic partnership programme to dedicate our efforts on Microsoft platform and technologies, and with this we were able to assemble a team with the proven knowhow in delivering critical national public facing services,” he added.

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