Vaccine management should take a page from corporate IT

Modern network security offers a template for responding to critical threats without resorting to prolonged shutdowns

Modern IT security offers a template for responding to critical threats to remain resilient.

As healthcare systems roll out COVID-19 vaccinations to more people, we must remain vigilant, collaborative, and prepared for whatever emerges next. Thinking about what “collaborative vigilance” should look like, we turned to the IT security wars of yesteryear. The analogy is surprisingly relevant to making the pandemic history.

Readers of a certain age will recall that back in the day, organizations typically responded to cyberattacks by taking devices thought to be infected off the network. Often, we’d shut down an entire network segment to prevent the damage from spreading.

What we learned from digital virus attacks is what the world is learning from COVID-19: Shutting down your entire system in the face of a massive threat isn’t a viable long-term solution.

Just as IT security teams created new tools to thwart malware while keeping the network up and running, governments and other organizations should now invest in digital workflows that improve virus- and vaccine-related data sharing, collaboration, and resilience. That’s how our societies can emerge from this pandemic stronger and better prepared for future crises.

Mutating threats

When the Internet was young, taking devices offline was the only reasonable response to a major virus attack. Back then, companies also typically kept such attacks private, fearing the news would damage their business.

Eventually, security pros learned how to fight off attacks without putting their entire operations on hold. They also started sharing information with industry groups and governments to help identify and track malicious code before it breached systems. Nowadays, security teams avoid the need for wholesale outages by continually monitoring and adapting the network in response to a rapidly changing set of threats.

The analogy to the fight against COVID-19 is clear. As new variants emerge that spread more quickly and can resist antibodies, we need strategies for our governments and healthcare systems to stay ahead of a resilient, adaptive virus.

For this to happen, we must seamlessly share, manage, and analyze data to produce the best outcomes. To this end, ServiceNow released Safe Workplace Suite last year to help employers address the challenges of reopening physical workplaces. The suite of apps includes Contact Tracing, Workplace Management, Vaccination Status, and more.

More recently, ServiceNow’s Vaccine Administration Management (VAM) solution helps organizations quickly meet the “last mile” challenges of vaccinating and protecting people at scale. The platform’s latest enhancements, announced last week, make it easier for providers to manage vaccine inventory. Organizations can automatically track the inventory in real time, as well as open, close, and reschedule appointments based on the number of vaccines they have available.

Children’s Minnesota, a pediatric hospital system based in Minneapolis, deployed VAM to reduce wait times from three hours in a walk-in model to 20 minutes with an appointment. That acceleration helped the hospital vaccinate nearly 1,400 people including staff, caregivers, and local community members—in just 11 hours.

At North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, staff members use the Now Platform® to access the latest information about state vaccine requirements and find answers to vaccine-related questions.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is using the Now Platform to quickly vaccinate its very large workforce. The platform allows DHS employees to opt into or out of getting a vaccine and keeps those who express interest apprised of the latest information, such as where to get a walk-up vaccination. The system can also provide targeted information, such as the nearest vaccine clinic, based on location.

How to workflow a pandemic

Digital workflows can help us meet a wide range of pandemic-related challenges, including how we track the spread of the virus.

Contact tracing, for example, has been an invaluable tool to track COVID-19 patients and people they might have infected. We should use the same infrastructure to manage and support testing and to maintain an increasingly accurate picture of what is going on in and among vaccinated areas, demographic groups, and individuals. This coordinated vigilance can produce a valuable baseline and core data that serve as “listening spots” to detect the emergence of vaccine-resistant virus mutations.

Effective pandemic response requires countries and companies to change traditional practices and collaborate as if lives depend on it. Because, of course, they do.

Pharmaceutical firms need this information to modify their treatments, adjust inventories, and rapidly distribute them to populations in need. Just as security teams patch software to thwart cyberthreats, we must quickly adjust the genetic codes of biological vaccines to defeat viruses that have mutated.

As epidemiologists often remind us, the coronavirus does not respect national, state, or corporate boundaries. Effective pandemic response requires countries and companies to change traditional practices and collaborate as if lives depend on it. Because, of course, they do.

In the U.S., the collaborative effort is already underway. Ford and General Motors retooled their factory lines to manufacture personal protective equipment, including respirators and ventilators. Rival pharma giants Merck and Johnson & Johnson forged an alliance to jointly manufacture the latter’s vaccine. Professional sports teams have offered their stadiums and sport facilities as mass vaccination sites.

This kind of cooperation requires digitized workflows to more efficiently share information and more quickly solve the problem. In a hyper-connected, always-on world, putting the entire planet on pause until the threat passes is a nonstarter. That’s true for this pandemic and any number of other threats, be it terrorism, global warming or something we haven’t yet considered.

Years ago, cybersecurity pros learned to mitigate threats without resorting to reflexive, business-hindering shutdowns. Similarly, the digital workflow model can help guide governments and societies through this evolving pandemic, which makes all of us more resilient and brings the end of the pandemic closer than ever.