A Race Against Time: Technology and the COVID-19 Vaccine

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To a large degree, sickness shows us how vulnerable man can be. This is especially true in the case of an outbreak, as in a plague or a pandemic. For one, the Black Plague (1346-1353) nearly wiped out the whole of Europe making it the ‘most feared’ in the history of mankind.

Spread by flea-infected rats, the Bubonic Plague, named for the various ‘buboes’ or lumps (small stone to baseball size) that appeared in the body of the infected, was caused by the bacterium Yesenia pestis. About 25 million people died due to the plague; some estimate about a third of the total population of Europe.

But eventually, as time rolled by, the Bubonic Plague eventually receded to the background. Stringent quarantine measures, experts believe, were key to its defeat. Plus, the disease-causing bacteria won’t serve a chance against the powerful antibiotics we have today. And though said bacteria still exists today on the planet, its effects are negligible.

Truly technology plays a huge role in curtailing the spread of a deadly disease. Today, though we haven’t developed a cure for COVID-19, various vaccines to prevent infection have been developed.

It’s but timely therefore that we look at how modern tech today can do its part in helping vaccines diminish the deadly effects of the COVID-19 virus. That way, we can see how people can eventually triumph even with millions upon millions affected.

The Merits of a Vaccine

It’s really a question of math. Recently, America is leading the way. The nation has fully vaccinated over 135 million Americans with nearly 300 million vaccine shots given.

All that is fine and dandy. But at least it would be best if the majority of over 7.6 billion humans on the planet would be inoculated. That would give us a huge advantage to create herd immunity, a hotly debated topic in today’s expert circles. Why? Simply because the virus is mutating, which means vaccines today could be rendered useless.

A long time ago, Buddhist monks, drank snake venom to develop immunity against snake bites. That practice is, of course, considered foolish by today’s standards. The history of vaccines started with Edward Jenner who inoculated a 13-year-old boy with a cowpox virus in 1796 to be immune to the more dangerous smallpox. Indeed, it’s about developing immunity from within using a ‘weaker’ form of a disease.

We can say it’s a reverse of the orthotopic mouse model to treat cancer patients. In that model, you use a pathogen from inside a human (e.g., cancer) to put it in a live animal for observation.

By getting cancerous cells from a human patient, patient-derived xenografts (PDX), and implanting them into a rodent for observation, we are in a better position to observe the spread and nature of cancer in vivo (e.g., breast cancer) compared to observing the same cancerous cells in vitro, or outside of a live host. In short, treatment becomes easier.

getting vaccinated

How Technology Can Help

For starters, technology can help speed up the manufacturing process. This way as many vaccines as needed can be produced. And speed is one area we need a lot of help with. To date, there are over 171 million infected cases in the whole world. With above 400,000 daily infections globally, it’s still an uphill climb.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) coupled with automation can be our ace cards to go over the hill and produce billions of vaccines in time to save humanity.

The good news is experts reveal that life sciences industries are way ahead compared to other manufacturers when it comes to adopting various digital technologies to fast-track manufacturing processes.

Automation technologies, for one, have been instrumental in shortening the timetable afforded from testing of the vaccine down to the delivery. This is done by the reduction of process set-up as well as the production times. So instead of the batch reviews taking days, today it now takes hours. Plus, there’s the holistic management of operations involving cloud chain technologies.

AI is the center of the high-quality automation process. For instance, IoT companies such as Augury are working hand in hand with top vaccine manufacturers, AstraZeneca and Sanofi, to prevent machine breakdowns. They proactively track the health of machines used in manufacturing.

Then, there’s the case for cold-chain distribution. The path of the vaccines from once ready must be as seamless as possible from the manufacturer’s doors down to clinics for inoculation. This is a big challenge as pharma reportedly wastes as much as $35 billion every year on medications that grow spoiled.

And COVID-19 vaccines are a sensitive object. Distributing these ‘hope for the planet’ is a daunting challenge. For one, different-brand vaccines must be kept in different temperatures. Moderna rsquo;s and Pfizer’s vaccines need to be stored at specific temperatures.

But this is where the outstanding number-crunching ability of AI combined with output from machine learning and IoT proves to be useful. By aggregating data, logistics performance, operations cost optimization, and fleet maintenance is as efficient as can be.

Technology has proven to be a big lever to help ease man’s burdens. Slowly, these advantages are turning the tide of this fight against a deadly unseen enemy. And while the virus may still be infecting thousands, its rate of infection is dropping by the day. By the looks of it, we are winning this war faster than expected.

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