Vaccines are racing up the NHS agenda. The UK’s health service is being asked to deliver the biggest flu vaccination programme in history. Meanwhile, the search for a Covid-19 vaccine could uncover a breakthrough at any point in the next 12 months, triggering an even bigger immunisation effort.

What makes vaccination plans even more challenging is that the NHS is already facing winter pressure, a care backlog caused by coronavirus restrictions and questions over medicine shortages that could arise from Brexit.

Primary care providers and pharmacies are understandably considering how they might cope with the demand for rapid, safe immunisation on an unprecedented scale.

Impact of immunisation plans

There will be conversations about policy decisions and funding. But what practical steps could help frontline professionals manage the impending workload?

The Association of Pharmacy Technicians has been campaigning for its members to be added to the Patient Group Directive list, which would permit around 23,000 professionals to administer medicines to patients directly and share the workload.

Pharmaceutical stockpiling

Medicine supplies are another area of concern. The pharmaceutical industry issued a memo in June warning that stockpiles of some medicines had been used up entirely at the height of the coronavirus outbreak. On top of that, the potential for the UK to leave the EU without a trade deal could make stockpiles difficult to rebuild.

Even vaccines themselves could be in short supply. GPs could face vaccine shortages with manufacturers warning that they may not be able to meet the additional demand.

None of these factors do much to enhance the public trust that is such a vital component of any vaccination programme. Concerns about immunisation have been fuelled in recent years by misinformation and media scrutiny is intense.

Where’s the evidence?

Robust evidence is key. At every stage of vaccine development, a digital fingerprint is tracked, repeated, measured and replicated. Rigorous measurement of ingredients, serums, proteins, DNA and chemical amplifiers ensure the vaccine is targeted with precision, free of contamination and demonstrably safe.

But what happens next? Distribution under strict temperature guidelines is compulsory. Vaccinations can’t be left out in the summer sun, on the reception desk or in the car boot of a community nurse. Nor can they be entrusted to a domestic fridge which could be easily unplugged.

We’re now in a world where a vaccine needs to be digitally connected at every point, from inception and manufacture to distribution and delivery to patients.

Digital medicine management

A digital approach to medicine management is one way for primary care providers and pharmacies to mitigate against potential shortages. By reducing the risk of vaccines being lost or harmed, healthcare providers can protect the stock on their premises.

Storage conditions are one area of focus. Vaccines may lose their effectiveness if they become too hot or too cold at any time. Guidance on storage, distribution and disposal of vaccines can be found in the Green Book and temperature monitoring standards are set out by the MHRA. The GPhC also requires compliance with regulations to protect standards and ensure best practice.

Vaccines should be stored in a validated vaccine fridge that is monitored for regulatory compliance and maintaining temperatures of between 2°C to and 8°C.

Manual monitoring routines are a burden on busy staff, especially during peak periods. Another problem with periodic manual monitoring is that it’s impossible to determine how long the stock was exposed to an out-of-spec temperature.

Automated temperature monitoring

By contrast, automated monitoring provides continuous vigilance. Alerts can be raised automatically if the storage environment deviates from designated temperatures, enabling staff to respond quickly and protect stock. Meaning you can act quickly to ensure the efficacy of vaccine stock.

Digital data is automatically recorded and accurate, detailed reports are quickly accessible for inspection purposes.

Not all automated monitoring solutions are created equal, however. It’s advisable to look out for UKAS-approved three-point calibration of temperature sensors, as well as regulatory compliance of systems and 24/7 support to assist in case of issues. Checkit’s Connected Automated Monitoring solutions lead the way in fulfilling these criteria.

Managing the process

In addition to storage protocols, the processing and checking of vaccine stock can also help avoid loss. It starts from the point of delivery, when a designated member of staff should check the order for possible discrepancies or damage. Once accepted, the stock must be moved into a validated vaccine fridge and noted in the inventory record.

From that point, vaccine stocks require regular reviews, with expiry dates checked so that those closest to expiry are used first. Best practice recommendations for vaccine storage include a weekly audit of vaccine fridge contents plus monthly stock checks and rotations. In addition, holders of vaccine stock are encouraged to share their records with local screening and immunisation teams.

Digital support can be applied here too. A new breed of process management tool prompts, guides and logs the actions of teams according to best practice. With Connected Workflow Management,  a mobile app enables photos and barcode scanning on-the-spot to help manage stock, with expiry dates and quantities captured in real time and securely stored in the cloud.

By introducing digital empowerment at every stage of vaccine provision, from pharmaceutical development and distribution to the point where vaccines are administered to patients, we can protect public trust, ensure efficacy and prevent wastage.