MUMBAI: In a pandemic-stricken world, an antidote is worth its weight in gold. And like gold, a Covid vaccine is presumably a precious thing that needs protecting. Think rifle-wielding escorts for vehicles transporting vaccines, just like a cash-dispensing van on an ATM sortie.
Companies, logistics firms, governments and hospitals are already ramping up infrastructure to safeguard vials of Covid vaccine against the looming risk of theft, burglary and pilferage. That’s not all — both vaccine makers and governments need to be alert to the possibility of counterfeiting and a potential grey market.
Vaccine makers and supply chain and logistics providers admit to being wary of “weak links” such as distribution centres, warehouses, truck stops and hospitals with lax security. Logistics and transportation companies are working towards secured solutions at a frantic pace to ensure that these holes are plugged.
“With the high demand and limited availability of Covid-19 vaccines, the system should be geared up to prevent any attempts of theft, pilferage or misuse. A representative from the office of the drugs controller should be included in the state, district and block-level task force,” states the Centre’s operational guidelines.
The massive rollout plan for AstraZeneca-Oxford’s Covishield, manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute, and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin includes putting in place an end-to-end traceability mechanism with RFID and bar coding to secure and monitor the supply chain, transportation and distribution — right from the manufacturing facility to the patient.
Besides physical controls in terms of CCTV, manual search and fingerprinting for access at warehouses where the vaccines are stored, the plan is to deploy automated data loggers that monitor storage temperature and transfer messages every three seconds to a central unit under tight surveillance 24/7.
“We have most of these structures in place as we transport high-value goods regularly, using vans which have GPS, data loggers and track-and-trace,” Rampraveen Swaminathan, CEO of Mahindra Logistics, told TOI. “We are also repurposing the logistics infrastructure to provide an end-to-end solution from the start to the last mile. Since the immunisation exercise will be huge and spread over the next couple of years, the challenge could be to scale up, and with speed.”
One of the options is transporting vaccines in high-speed vehicles, with the highly-secure IoT-enabled (internet of things) locking system that allows users to access locks/doors remotely.
The CoWIN app has been designed for end-to-end tracking of Covid-19 shots, besides linking every dose to the individual getting a jab. Every mismatch in available physical stock is to be reported. “Any instance of broken or damaged vaccine vials needs to be immediately reported to the medical officer/store in-charge. This should then be physically examined, counted, photographed and certified,” an official said.
The onus of making adequate arrangements for 24×7 security of cold chain points at all locations and during transportation of vaccines is on the state or district administration. Vehicles carrying Covid-19 vials will have to be sealed before leaving the cold chain point and opened only in front of the facility in-charge, the official said.
The possibility of theft and counterfeiting is stronger than what many might think. “Over the past five years, worldwide incidents such as theft and counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products rose nearly 69%, according to the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, a trade group,” said Nakul Pasricha, president of the Authentication Solution Providers’ Association that fights fakes. “In the Indian scenario, as per our study, pharma and other health care products are among the top 10 sectors that reported the highest incidence of counterfeiting in the last two years.”
GS1 India is working with six vaccine manufacturers, right from the manufacturing origin to the point of inoculation by using simple bar code scans, said the company’s COO S Swaminathan.
Since the supply chain is a complex one, involving multiple vendors, things will get clearer over months. Rituraj Sinha, chairman of the Ficci committee on private security services and head of SIS Prosegur, said cash logistics and security services firms were ready to help out. “Should the need arise, we have the necessary capabilities and willingness to work with the government for a national cause.”
Ketan Kulkarni, CMO & head of business development at Blue Dart, said, “For all high-value and critical shipments that travel in the Blue Dart system, which currently includes vaccines, there is a robust digital security footprint from pickup till the point of delivery.”
The mega immunisation drive may see high-speed vehicles transporting the vaccines, secured by rifle-wielding escorts on the outside and highly secure IoT-enabled locking system from the inside.