Health

UK hospitals use blockchain to track coronavirus vaccine temperature

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1.8 ml of sodium chloride is added to a vial of Pfizer / BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine concentrate ready for administration at Guy’s Hospital at the start of the largest vaccination program in UK history on December 8, 2020 in London, UK.

Victoria Jones – Pool | Getty Images

LONDON – Two hospitals in the UK are actively using blockchain technology to maintain the temperature of coronavirus vaccines before they are administered to patients.

The National Health Service facilities in South Warwickshire, England, use technology developed by the UK company Everyware and the US organization Hedera Hashgraph. Everyware uses sensors to monitor devices in real time, while Hedera is a blockchain consortium backed by Google and IBM.

Although blockchain was originally created as a digital ledger for Bitcoin, it has since been adapted by various industries for non-financial applications. For example, IBM and Walmart have used blockchain to track food supply chains and identify potential contamination.

Tom Screen, technical director at Everyware, told CNBC that its sensors would monitor the temperature of refrigerators that store vaccines. The data is then transferred to its own cloud platform, where it is encrypted and then forwarded to Hedera’s blockchain network.

The aim of this operation is to keep a tamper-proof digital record of temperature-sensitive vaccines such as those developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. In theory, hospitals could detect irregularities in the storage of vaccines before they are given to patients.

Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at temperatures below zero (-70 degrees Celsius) and can only be kept for up to five days in conditions of two to eight degrees Celsius, which creates great logical hurdles for logistics in the distribution.

However, the vaccines developed by Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca can be stored at temperatures that are beyond the reach of the average household refrigerator for longer.

Blockchain saw a lot of hype in 2017 when the value of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin skyrocketed. This led to several projects by large companies like IBM and Walmart, as well as governments promising to replace various old paper-based methods of recording.

Today, the craze for blockchain seems to have waned, and trials and products based on the technology are hardly announced by large companies.

When asked why blockchain is needed instead of a regular database, Everyware’s Screen said, “Data stored in a private database can be verified by the status of data recorded in the public ledger.”

“The benefits of having an immutable ledger to check the validity of data as close to the source as possible have a positive impact on the accuracy of the downstream analysis, which increases errors in the source data in the output records,” he said.

Everyware participated in an open tender process involving other bidders to provide its services to the South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust, Screen said.

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