Bill Brooks, vice president of transportation with Capgemini, describes the challenge of distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to outlying areas of the country in a safe, secure and timely manner.
The distances involved in distributing the vaccine to rural areas compound the difficulty of keeping it at proper temperatures — in the case of at least two of the vaccines, well below freezing. Spoilage is therefore an issue. So is the need for an established network of locations at which the vaccine can be administered to the greatest number of people in the shortest time. Rural areas are served by hospitals and pharmacies, but at far less density than is typical of an urban setting. And the vaccine must be transported to many more locations in rural communities.
The key to efficient rural distribution lies in adequate up-front planning — something that many urban areas have lacked in the early weeks of the vaccine distribution. Software can be used to get people signed up, assess their priority for the shot, and determine how many doses are needed in a given area. In addition, planners must know where the shots will be administered, and how the vaccine will be physically transported to the selected sites.
Because of the massive scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, previous such occurrences offer little in the way of lessons for dealing with the current crisis. “You’re trying to touch 80% of the population, and make it 100% available to those who want it,” says Brooks. But current efforts are boosted by software applications that weren’t available during prior outbreaks. Now, says Brooks, medical professionals have the opportunity to build a distribution infrastructure for the future. “We’re doing ourselves a huge disservice if we don’t take this information and come up with the perfect solution for everyone,” he says.
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