Behind the Frontline: The Role of Telematics Technology in Efficiently Transporting the COVID-19 Vaccine

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Vaccine or flu shot in injection needle. Doctor working with patient's arm. Physician or nurse giving vaccination and immunity to virus, influenza or HPV with syringe. Appointment with medical expert.

By Neil Cawse, Founder and CEO of Geotab

Technology has played a vital role in helping people and businesses adapt to the emotional and logistical rollercoaster of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, telematics—which allows companies with delivery or other commercial vehicles to use data to monitor and understand the location and condition of their vehicles—helped businesses successfully navigate the exponential increase in delivery demand that emerged with the pandemic and has continued. 

The start of 2021 brought with it a new prospect of actively addressing the pandemic rather than just living through it. In fact, when President Joe Biden in late January pledged 100 million vaccines within the first 100 days of his presidency, Pfizer and Moderna were already in the midst of distributing their two-dose vaccines, with large-scale administration efforts being rolled out to vaccinate members of the public. Now, with the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine added to the mix, the careful coordination of vaccine distribution efforts will continue to be incredibly important. And telematics will play an even more crucial role in two key areas:

  • Tracking vaccine deliveries to ensure accurate, timely distribution.
  • Actively monitoring deliveries in progress to optimize the best routes possible.

Just as the COVID-19 vaccines made history in terms of how quickly they were developed and produced, the distribution of the vaccines are also taking place on a scale that will be both historic and unprecedented. Collaboration between federal, state, and local institutions will need to work together with fleets and pharmaceutical manufacturers to make sure every precious dose is accounted for as they try to vaccinate the country’s more than 330 million residents.

As manufacturing strives to meet worldwide demand, telematics will continue to be an important part of the COVID-19 response over the next several months as the volume of doses continue to increase and the dosing location ecosystem grows —from large-scale vaccination sites like Dodgers Stadium to national chains like CVS and Walgreens, and local pharmacies in rural communities. This widespread distribution is where the value of telematics technology comes into play.

Because the majority of vaccines require extreme cold storage to maintain their integrity, pharmaceutical companies are supplying delivery fleets with the proper containers they need to complete a successful delivery. But by also integrating telematics technology, fleets are able to anticipate factors beyond their control and respond to potential challenges such as weather, unexpected road conditions or traffic. While even the most advanced telematics certainly can’t control these challenges, they do help fleets avoid those challenges through updated routing to better manage delivery times, and communicate any changes downstream to the stakeholders who are managing distribution at the destination sites.

The data processed using telematics can also help anticipate problems that—unlike the weather—are within a fleet’s control. It can help fleets with advanced warnings through real-time vehicle diagnostics, expedite the communication of traffic delays, and generally help fleets adapt as needed to these and other potential problems. That critical real-time perspective—and the ability to quickly and easily update critical stakeholders in the supply chain—will allow the process of transporting and distributing the vaccine to evolve over time (such as scaling up or down based on need, location, etc.), and become even more efficient as conditions change.

As we look back at the past couple months, there is no doubt that vaccine transport and distribution is playing an important role in the aggressive strategy to fight the pandemic. In less than three months’ time, more than 75 million doses have been administered in the U.S. and that number continues to grow at a fast pace with more than 1.7 million shots being administered each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In order to maintain or even ramp up this pace, telematics technology will continue to help anticipate, avoid and address any potential supply chain problems that could otherwise hinder the vaccination process. Through the combined efforts of this technology, the people behind it, and the frontline workers dedicated to putting it into action, we’ll be one step closer to a long-term solution.

Neil is an accomplished business leader, entrepreneur and engineer who has been founding and running his own businesses since 1992. In 2000, Neil founded Geotab Inc., which is now the largest telematics company in the world, as measured by new vehicle subscriptions being added on a yearly basis. Geotab has been voted one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies as well as one of the fastest growing tech companies in North America for several years. Neil is an engineer at heart and this passion keeps him involved in the day-to-day engineering and design of Geotab’s systems. Neil believes that Geotab’s success stems from the company’s integrity, its forward thinking ideals and foremost the customer receiving the right solution. In 2015, Neil Cawse was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Ontario.

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