Introduction

The COVID-19 Pandemic has devastated nations across the globe and has resulted in over 75 million people infected with the SARS–CoV-2 virus worldwide. The Pandemic has not only resulted in over 1.6 million deaths but has also devastated the global economy. In December, the US death toll hit 300,000, the highest in the world and in the UK, a new more infectious variant of the COVID-19 virus has resulted in tough restrictions in many of its cities. India has recorded the second highest number of COVID-19 infections in the world with over 10 million infections and over 145,000 deaths

The first glimmers of hope are being seen with the Pfizer – BioNTech COVID – 19 Vaccine being granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by 11 countries. The pipeline of vaccine candidates that have applied for EUA and that are in the last stage Phase II – III trial have grown to over 20 in number. Special Vaccine Initiatives such as Operation Warp Speed in USA and COVAX supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), Global Alliance for Vaccines & Immunization (GAVI), Gates Foundation and several governments have also been working with several stakeholders towards accelerating the production and distribution of the vaccines. The first COVID-19 vaccinations outside of clinical trials have already commenced in USA and the United Kingdom.

The imminent arrival of approved vaccines for the immunisation of the general population is good news however there are massive and varied challenges abound in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccines.

The challenges in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine range from Cold Chain Logistics and Technology requirements to ‘Vaccine Hesitancy’ and Intellectual Property issues. These issues have the potential to hinder the COVID-19 vaccination program in many countries especially developing countries. The consequences of a failed rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine are immense and range from increasing fatalities to devastated economies. The rolling out of the vaccine to immunize the populations across the globe will be one of the most important challenges that we need to solve in the year 2021.

From the Black Death and Cholera outbreaks to the Spanish Flu and Small Pox, pandemics have devastated human populations since times immemorial. The lessons that we learn and the solutions that are developed through the course of the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines will be valuable for generations to come due to the very simple fact that this is unlikely to be the last global pandemic.

Cold Chain Logistics & Information Technology Solutions

The vaccination of the global population against COVID-19 will be one of the largest supply chain operations ever undertaken. Around 10 to 19 billion doses will have to be transported around the world and be tracked every step of the way. India alone would require up to 2.6 billion doses to immunize the population (if the vaccine requires 2 doses).

It is imperative that a large percentage of the world population is immunized against COVID-19. The Global Alliance for Vaccines & Immunization (GAVI) has stated that “No one is safe unless everyone is safe.”

Although billions of dollars have been spent on development of vaccines, the supply chain for the distribution of vaccines have not received the same level of investment, planning and coordination.

What makes the transport of vaccines a unique challenge is that they have to be kept at low temperatures without large temperature fluctuations. Vaccines are very temperature sensitive and temperature fluctuations result in the vaccines losing potency and efficacy, leading to spoilage. On average, spoilage accounts for around 50% of the total supply of the vaccines going to waste every year due to temperature control, logistics and transport related issues. As the number of doses of the COVID-19 vaccines are limited, prevention of spoilage and wastage becomes even more crucial. Vaccine vial monitors, accurate temperature probe solutions and tracking platforms will play an important role in preventing wastage.

One of the major bottlenecks in the vaccination of the global population would be the cold storage infrastructure available in various countries. It has been estimated that 8000 Boeing 747 cargo planes with specialized equipment for precision vaccine cold storage would be required for distribution of the atleast 1 dose of the vaccines for the population of 200 countries. Currently, a large percentage of the cargo and passenger plane fleets have been in long term storage since the start of the pandemic, further complicating the supply chain requirements

The vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech require to be stored at ultra-low temperature of negative 70 degree Celsius without temperature fluctuations. These ultra-low temperatures cannot be maintained by normal freezers and refrigeration but would need special equipment. Recently, batches of Pfizer vaccines had to be discarded as the temperature at which they were stored dropped below negative 80 degree Celsius. The Moderna vaccine which was recently granted EUA has a storage requirement of negative 20 degree Celsius, which is lower than that of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine but it would also need frozen cold chains in order to be distributed.

Even the other promising vaccines in the pipeline such as the Vaccine from Oxford-Astrazeneca, Covishield from Serum Institute of India (SII) and Covaxin from Bharat Biotech would need to be kept at temperatures between 2 to 6 degree Celsius without temperature fluctuations. These vaccines would not only require normal refrigeration but would require robust Temperature Controlled Logistics (TCL) such as refrigerated vans and portable refrigerators to ensure that the vaccines can be distributed to the hinterlands of India without exposure to temperature fluctuations.

The supply chain requirements for the vaccination of the world population is not just limited to vaccines but also to that of needles, rubber stoppers, glass vials and fuel for refrigeration.

Information Technology (IT) solutions and platforms for the tracking of vaccines are not only crucial to ensure temperature stability but to also ensure the security of the transported vaccines to prevent piracy and curb black markets for the vaccines. There have been recorded instances of hackers attempting to attack the supply chain of the COVID-19 vaccines. Technology platforms will also be crucial to administration and management of vaccine stockpiles.

Disinformation & Vaccine Hesitancy

Disinformation about the side effects of the vaccines are leading to increasing ‘Vaccine Hesitancy’ among the general population. Even before the COVID-19 Pandemic, around 10% of the population already considered vaccines as unsafe or unnecessary. An online survey conducted in India, revealed that around 60% of the respondents would not rush to get vaccinated against COVID-19. In a few states of India, certain sections of the populations already consider vaccines to cause impotency.

Disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines are not only being spread via social media and digital platforms but also by high rankings members of society. The Chief justice of South Africa recently made comments in a televised address about the COVID-19 vaccine ‘corrupting people’s DNA’ and that it was ‘from the Devil’. The President of Brazil recently made remarks that the COVID-19 vaccine would ‘turn people into crocodiles’ and would result in ‘beards in women’.

Such disinformation makes it more difficult to carry out immunization campaigns against COVID-19. Unless large section of the populations are inoculated against COVID-19, widespread protection would not be achieved. Solutions against disinformation regarding vaccines are needed for governments around the world to conduct successful vaccination programs.

Vaccine Nationalism & Intellectual Property Issues

Vaccine Nationalism or Vaccine Sovereignty is the issue of prioritized distribution of vaccines to the host country where the vaccine is developed and produced and to the highest bidders.

Vaccine Nationalism is a potential roadblock in the equitable vaccination of the world populations especially in developing countries and in Low and Medium Income Countries.

Out of the 10 billion doses of various COVID-19 vaccines that have been pre-ordered, around 50% have been already purchased by high income countries who account for only 14% of the world population. It is estimated that populations in low income countries may not receive the COVID-19 vaccines until 2023 or 2024. This pattern has been seen earlier in the African continent with regards to diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B.

This is a real concern for low and medium income countries not just for the present COVID-19 Pandemic but also for any future pandemics that may arise.

In order to secure the rights of populations in Low and Medium Income countries to the COVID-19 vaccine, a petition for a TRIPS (Trade Related aspects of Intellectual property rights) waiver was submitted by India and South Africa in the World Trade Organization (WTO). This petition was supported by 100 members of the WTO but was not supported by wealthy nations and eventually dropped.

This highlights the need for legal frameworks and ideas to deal with Intellectual Property issues in times of crisis. Intellectual Property rights and rules need to be designed in such a way that they encourage strong innovation while easing barriers for low and medium income countries to access vaccines.

The costs of the vaccines also show a lot of variation which would require countries to choose the COVID-19 vaccine based on their affordability for the general population. Currently the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine costs 19.5 dollars whereas promising vaccines from India such as Covishield and Covaxin are likely to be priced much lower between 3 and 6 dollars, making it much more affordable

WHAT PARTICIPANTS ARE EXPECTED TO DO?

Participants need to choose one of four roles – ‘Entrepreneur’, ‘Head of NGO’, ‘District Magistrate’, and ‘India representative to the WTO’ and provide relevant solutions to ‘Rolling out the COVID-19 Vaccines’ accordingly.

  • The participants who choose ‘Entrepreneur’ need to provide robust and scalable solutions for Cold Chain Logistics and/or IT Technology for the distribution and administration of the COVID-19 vaccines in India.
  • The participants who choose the Head of NGO need to provide solutions towards administration of the COVID-19 vaccines in the hinterlands of India and on how to fight the disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines.
  • The participants who choose ‘District Magistrate’ will have to provide solutions from the perspective of local administration of a rural deprived district, regarding which COVID-19 vaccines to purchase, vaccination protocols, and information campaigns for the local population to prevent Vaccine Hesitancy’ about the COVID-19 Vaccines.
  • The participants who choose ‘India representative to the WTO’ will need to provide legal frameworks and potential global agreements to prevent Vaccine Nationalism and strong innovation incentive for the production of COVID-19 vaccines while ensuring access to the vaccine.

The above mentioned points are not hard and fast rules for this competition.

Participants who choose any of the roles can tackle any problem related to ‘Rolling out the COVID-19 Vaccines’ as long as the solutions are novel and relevant. The proposed solutions need to include a concise implementation plan including key steps involved and the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders.

CHALLENGE RULES

  • 01 Students, who are studying in 11th and 12th grades, may participate individually or as a team of up to 4 members.
  • 02 Students from each team must hail from the same school.
  • 03 Register yourself/your team for the Challenge on the Vijaybhoomi website.
  • 04 Log In to Submit your Solution on https://discovery.vijaybhoomi.edu.in/login.php by Saturday, 06 Febraury 2021.
    - The file uploaded should be in PPT converted to PDF format only, maximum 15 slides
    - File size should be maximum 5 MB
    - Please name the file as: ‘Stubble_Team Name/Individual Name’
  • 05 Shortlisted teams will be intimated by Monday, 08 February 2021
  • 06 Present your solution in 10 minutes (if selected) using submitted document on 09th February 2021. Zoom link will be sent to you on the email ID provided in the registration form.
  • 07 The winner will be announced on Thursday, 11 February 2021.

Discovery Challenge Timelines

Registration opens on: Tuesday, December 22, 2020
Registration closes on: Saturday, February 06, 2021
Last date for submission of Proposal: Saturday, February 06, 2021
Final round: Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Awards and Prizes

All students taking part in this Challenge will be awarded a participation certificate and winners stand a chance to win cash prizes upto Rs.50,000 and scholarships.
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