Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the general consensus on distributed ledger technology (DLT) for vaccine traceability was that the technology’s use cases and maturity weren’t where they needed to be to warrant an immediate investment. While vaccines have always been important, what many people couldn’t have anticipated is just how critical it would be to increase accountability from the first mile through the last.
Variables driving the acceleration of DLT
There are always multiple stakeholders involved in goods distribution, which can create widespread challenges in authenticity and provenance, especially within the apparel, fine art, diamonds, wine and pharmaceuticals industries. Commercial customers and consumers alike want to know that the products they have purchased and received are exactly what the supplier claimed they would be. This is especially true when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines.
Countries across the world have been eagerly awaiting the release of a vaccine to help slow the spread of the virus, and we have seen unequaled effort put forth to test, produce and distribute billions of doses. In fact, very few distribution efforts are as complex and closely scrutinized as the COVID-19 vaccination distribution effort. The scale and volume of the rollout alone pose an extraordinary array of challenges. When you also factor the speed at which distribution must occur across the entire globe, it becomes clear that a digital ledger is both valuable and necessary. It is the easiest way for all stakeholders to create and access a single record of truth, which is key to building trust in the process – and the product.
Although we’re only a few months into 2021, the first billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide – and thousands of counterfeit vials have been seized. Experts predict the number of fake vaccines produced will continue to rise and enter the supply chain, driving government officials in nearly every region to commit even more resources to the investigation, interception, and management of fraudulent supply.
The future of distributed ledger and blockchain technologies
The magnitude and time pressure of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, combined with the rising incidents of fake vaccines entering the market, has led many experts to speculate on the potential for rapid DLT and blockchain adoption. Many believe that distributed ledgers, which are a type of blockchain, could be key to proving authenticity and restoring trust and confidence in the vaccine supply chain. Their core values align with the requirements of today’s goods verification and authentication solutions:
- Immutability – Once the data is uploaded to a digital ledger, it cannot be modified and, therefore, can be trusted to be true.
- Transparency – DLT and other blockchain solutions enable data to be easily shared between entities, ensuring no central entity has control over the data.
- Security – Nothing is 100% secure. However, distributed ledger and blockchain technologies offer decentralization, cryptography, and consensus features that make the technology ecosystem one of the most secure for data storage and transfer.
These technologies are also becoming more popular because of their ability to facilitate speedy transit – and trust – at border crossings. With the rising number of goods being shipped daily, customs agents responsible for processing international shipments need to be able to quickly verify the quantity, quality, and accuracy of packaged goods, which has traditionally been a very cumbersome process. By accessing a DLT or other blockchain to retrieve the bill of laden for each pallet or package, they can easily review the origination and destination information, inventory list, and shipper’s transit log to confidently grant passage.
Considering the distance many COVID-19 vaccines must travel to reach the global population and how many handoffs will occur between the production facility and point of administration, employing blockchain technology solutions can help ease the authentication process and increase accountability.
Though these technologies still have room to grow, it’s clear they hold great value and offer benefits to the supply chain that previously went unrecognized. Whether it’s validating vaccine authenticity or confirming if a designer bag is real, DLT and other blockchain solutions are making a huge splash in multiple industries.
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