By Jon Swartz
The tech industry is throwing its considerable resources into helping get vaccines to millions of Americans amid an alarming upward spiral in COVID-19 cases.
From Microsoft Corp. (NAS:MSFT) in Seattle to International Business Machines Corp. (NYS:IBM) in Armonk, N.Y., tech companies nationwide are offering expertise in tackling a logistical task that some compared with the moon landing.
“This is the biggest data puzzle of our lifetime,” requiring collaboration among tech companies and with federal and state authorities, Jason Kelley, general manager of blockchain services at IBM, told MarketWatch. “This is a team sport.”
For tech, vaccine distribution presents an opportunity and a challenge. The industry sees a chance to burnish its credentials while fulfilling an urgent societal need, amid criticism for failing to pursue big projects that profoundly improve people’s lives. But the ambitious deployment comes fraught with risks, as illustrated by potential security breaches in open-access systems, botched scheduling and some fraudulent accounts.
In Florida, which reported nearly 15,000 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, online-ticketing service Eventbrite Inc. EB is working with counties to help schedule immunization for Floridians 65 and older as the state grapples with serpentine lines, confusion and disappointment. Some fake Eventbrite accounts popped up, however, a concerning development for the future of using such services for vaccine distribution.
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“Our team has investigated and has not found evidence of vaccine registration events being created for the purpose of malice,” the Eventbrite spokeswoman told MarketWatch. “The unofficial event listings we have found, some of which are charging a fee, are likely a result of user error, where people are mistakenly creating new event listings instead of signing up for a time slot.”
What tech is undertaking is no small feat. U.S. Digital Response, an organization that pairs tech-savvy volunteers with state and local governments needing tech assistance, has outlined eight key areas for COVID-19 vaccine providers that include confirming eligibility of patients, reporting data to a state’s immunization information system, and managing vaccine inventory.
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“Tech vetting for a state or county requires time. It takes an engineer’s eye to know which vendor to use for a project,” Raphael Lee, director of USDR’s health program, told MarketWatch. His organization helped the city of Seattle and King County find a vendor, Solv, to set up testing sites.
A wide-range of companies in recent days have laid out their vaccine-related rollout plans.
IBM is offering governments and private companies supply chain management software and open blockchain technology to record and authenticate the temperature and handling of each vaccine dose. The computing giant is also expanding the availability of IBM Digital Health Pass, the company’s new health passport app, with the aid of Salesforce.com Inc. (NYS:CRM) to help organizations verify an individual’s vaccine status and any other relevant health credentials.
In addition to its partnership with IBM, Salesforce is teaming with global vaccine agency Gavi on its project to equitably distribute the vaccine in 190 countries. Salesforce is also part of a project with consultant MTX for Chicago to manage vaccine distribution, an arrangement that could be extended to more cities.
“We’re partnering with customers like Gavi to help them meet their goals,” Dr. Ashwini Zenooz, Salesforce’s chief medical officer, told MarketWatch. Gavi has the ambitious goal of overseeing 2 billion vaccines by the end of 2021 worldwide.
“We see our role as the last mile of the vaccination journey,” Zenooz said. “Tech can play a big role in making this happen.”
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Alphabet Inc.’s Google (NAS:GOOGL) (NAS:GOOG) says its cloud unit has broadened its pandemic response to assist with vaccine intelligence and distribution, and it is working alongside partners to deploy vaccine management solutions with state and local governments.
“Google Cloud has extended our pandemic response to help with vaccine intelligence, and we’re working alongside partners to deploy vaccine management solutions with state and local governments,” a Google spokeswoman said. “Google is helping connect people with quality information and resources about COVID-19, including vaccines, and we’re working on additional products and features to help get people the right information at the right time.”
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Oracle Corp. (NYS:ORCL) donated to the federal government a national electronic health record database and public health management applications that can be used to track who has been vaccinated and who might have potential side effects. Oracle intends to bring similar systems to Africa by joining with the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change .
Microsoft Corp. (NAS:MSFT) is working with Ernst & Young and others on vaccine management efforts powered by Microsoft’s cloud and business services. The end-to-end solution helps manage the manufacture and distribution process of the vaccine in real time. The EY Vaccine Management Solution is built on Microsoft Azure, Dynamics 365, Power BI and Power Platform, according to Microsoft .
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Uber Technologies Inc. (NYS:UBER) and Lyft Inc. (NAS:LYFT) are offering to help get more Americans inoculated, and Uber paired its ride-hailing service with vaccine maker Moderna Inc. (NAS:MRNA) to work with public-health agencies to schedule rides for those eligible for doses, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Lyft executives have huddled with the incoming Biden administration about allocating federal funds for vaccine-related transportation.
Honeywell International Inc. (NYS:HON) , Atrium Health, Tepper Sports & Entertainment and the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday announced a public-private partnership with the state of North Carolina to help supply 1 million vaccinations by July 4. Honeywell is providing technology to manage logistics.
Zocdoc is lending its healthcare booking technology for free to support large care organizations and public health entities stage and schedule COVID-19 vaccinations.
In December, DoorDash Inc. (NYS:DASH) sent a letter to Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and governors nationwide, urging them to consider giving priority to delivery workers in their plans for vaccine distribution.
“Dashers have been on the front lines everyday, providing essential services to support communities and small businesses across the country throughout the pandemic,” Max Rettig, DoorDash’s global Head of public policy, said in the Dec. 7 letter. “We are actively engaging with public health officials at the federal and state levels to help ensure these vital delivery workers have access to vaccines at the earliest possible opportunity.”