Healthcare CIOs Prepare To Safeguard Covid-19 Vaccines

CIOs have the responsibility to help keep the Covid-19 vaccine secure
CIOs have the responsibility to help keep the Covid-19 vaccine secure
Image Credit: Jernej Furman

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a long, hard, path for everyone. Only now is a light starting to appear at the end of the long dark tunnel that we have all been in. Vaccines are racing through the testing phases and once they become available everyone is going to want to get one. What this means for healthcare CIOs is that they need to start planning now for how they are going to keep their vaccines secure so that they can be distributed to the people who need them the most at the right times.

CIOs Plan To Keep The Covid-19 Vaccine Safe

People with the CIO job are preparing to store Covid-19 vaccines in secure, undisclosed locations and taking other steps to protect the shots against a looming threat: theft. As the leading vaccine candidates advance closer to use, CIOs at vaccine makers such as Pfizer are deploying GPS software for tracking distribution and plotting fake shipments in dummy trucks to confuse criminals. The CIO at Glassmaker Corning Inc. is equipping vials with black-light verification to curb counterfeiting. And some hospital CIOs who are expected to be among the first vaccination sites are beefing up their pharmacies’ security systems.

The goal of these CIOs is protecting the shots against professional thieves who have a long history of targeting valuable medicines, and have pilfered Covid-19 tests, masks and other personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. The person in the CIO position needs to be appropriately paranoid about anything that has to do with either cybersecurity or physical security and they need to take great precaution to ensure that these are safeguarded. U.S. marshals will be accompanying shipments of vaccines, which are currently stored at undisclosed locations, once the shots are authorized for distribution.

Despite such measures, CIOs worry the shots could be vulnerable to theft at weak links in the supply chain, such as distribution centers, truck stops and hospitals with lax security. CIOs at five large hospital systems said that they are more focused on ensuring that enough people take the shots and securing capabilities to store the vaccines at the required extremely cold temperatures, than possible theft. They added that they plan to use standard security steps, such as locking the vaccines in pharmacies. Governments around the world are pushing to fast-track the Covid-19 vaccines, and drug makers are speeding up what is usually a decade long process.

Solving The Last Mile Problem

Leading Covid-19 vaccine candidates from Pfizer, Moderna and other companies are currently in the final stage of testing. The shots could be authorized as early as November or December. Though drug makers have been producing doses, initial supplies are expected to be limited, making any shot a coveted commodity. CIOs are concerned they could be intercepted by sophisticated criminals, foreign governments or individuals eager to get vaccines before prioritized groups, such as health-care workers.

CIOs understand that they are going to have people that will want to have access to the vaccine earlier. All CIOs agree that the vaccine needs to be protected. Over the past five years, world-wide incidents such as theft and counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products rose nearly 70% Thefts tend to happen during pandemics. In 2009, police arrested a man accused of stealing more than 900 doses of the H1N1 vaccine in Milwaukee outside a school where officials administered the vaccine, and later recovered the doses.

Vaccine maker CIOs plan to employ measures that in recent years have helped reduce theft, including the use of empty so-called dummy trucks to throw off thieves, industry officials and security experts say. Pfizer, which is shipping its vaccines in specially made, temperature-controlled containers, will use GPS software to track the location and temperature of each of the shots, to prevent unexpected deviations. CIOs understand that the distribution at this scale of such a valuable product with such high care is going to be a very significant challenge for the industry.

The CIO at United Parcel Service said it plans to use a tracking tool that will tag shots the company is shipping so it can monitor them within two meters of their location. Hospitals CIOs are being encouraged to treat Covid-19 vaccines similarly to controlled substances, which by federal law are required to sit behind two different locks and be inventoried by hand. High demand, completely low supply – that means this will be extremely lucrative for the black market.

What All Of This Means For You

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a big deal for everyone. The imminent arrival of the Covid-19 vaccines poses a number of problems for CIOs. The vaccine shots will be a valuable product and they will have to be shipped over long distances in order to get them to where they can be administered. This means that the potential for them to be stolen will be great. CIOs who understand the importance of information technology will need to take steps to keep their valuable product safe.

CIOs are starting the process of securing the vaccine doses by keeping them at undisclosed locations. When they are being shipped, they will be tracked by GPS devices in order to keep an eye on their whereabouts. In some cases, U.S. marshals will be accompanying shipments of the vaccine. Hospitals will need to take standard security steps to keep the vaccine safe. Initial doses of the vaccine will be limited and thus will be even more valuable. Thefts of vaccines tend to happen during pandemics. Hospital CIOs are being encourage to treat the Covid-19 vaccine like they do controlled substances.

The good news is that CIOs understand that they may have a situation on their hands as Covid-19 vaccines become available. In order to prevent thefts from occurring, technology will need to be used to track the product as it makes it way from the factory to the distribution site. Once at the site, enhanced security measures will be required to keep it safe. CIOs need to get this vaccine protection task done correctly if we ever want the pandemic to end!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How can CIOs keep the vaccine safe before it gets put on a truck to have it shipped?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Every CIO starts out a year with a clear set of goal: things that we want to get done because of the importance of information technology. However, and this year has been no exception, things have a habit of changing on us. When these changes happen, CIOs are faced with two choices: make no changes and hope for the best or adjust their plans to match the new set of realities that they find themselves dealing with. With all of the changes that CIOs have experienced this year, they had no choice but to create a new set of priorities in order to make it through the year.