2020, the annus horribilis, is drawing to a close. Will we see light at the end of the tunnel, or will the coming year be annus horribilis v2.0?
The optimists will say the vaccine is here, but the realists will say that is only a part of the story. The vaccine distribution needs a cold chain. In tropical and subtropical countries, maintaining a cold chain at -70 degree Celsius is a big task. That rules out a set of vaccines. But the problem of distribution still remains for those vaccines that can be stored in ordinary consumer refrigerators. How to move the vaccines from the manufacturing units to the final point of administration?
While the pandemic has tested our health services, the medical researchers have achieved an amazing feat of developing three vaccines within a year, something that has never been done before. It therefore puts equal pressure on the administration to match the efficiency of these pioneers and put in place an equally capable system to deliver the vaccine doses to the waiting public. Getting the vaccine to the population will need an army of health workers, technicians and logistics.
This will test our utilities to the maximum. The transportation, staging, storage and delivery to the final designated hospital or health facility where it will be administered to the public needs to be worked out. There is a requirement to ensure uninterrupted power to enable the safe storage of the vaccines in the required environmental conditions. There need to be fail-safe communication links at each point. The movement of people from their homes to the vaccination centers have to be planned and orchestrated with military precision, so that there is a smooth flow and convergence of people and vaccine doses. Any hiccup might mean the loss of precious doses, or disillusionment among the public.
The entire saga is underpinned by a level of technology that is also at the cutting edge. For example, one of the vaccine packages is equipped with a GPS tag which will record the location and temperature of the package. Undoubtedly, RFID tags will also be used for the same purpose at the local level.
A record has to be maintained of each person who is administered the vaccine, because it requires a two-dose delivery separated by 21 days. Thus, all those who have taken the first dose will have to be located, tracked and alerted for the second dose.
Geospatial systems will play a major role — invisible perhaps, but essential for the success of the effort. There is a great scope for innovation, for example the success of Geovation in supplying of potable water in reusable bottles reflects a kind of simple solution based on location.
Precision location has become essential as utilities management moves to greater automation. Location and twinning of underground assets is another area of innovation which will keep megalopolises ticking.
In conclusion, there are opportunities and opportunities which are opening up. Apparently COVID-19 certificates are now being sold by ‘entrepreneurs’ to air travelers, which, if true, endangers air travel. Meanwhile, a company in the UK has launched a ‘Fit-to-Fly’ secure heath passport to counter this. This reminds me of the metal smith who developed a sword which could smash any shield and a shield which could withstand any sword.