Vaccine Smart-Fridge Aims to Make Drug Storage Foolproof

By combining sensor-enabled, purpose-built refrigerators and freezers with cloud-based software to control inventory and manage safety alerts, Weka Health Solutions says it is making vaccine management easy and safe for physicians' offices.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 22, 2016

Weka Health Solutions is a Boston-based firm that uses a range of technologies to serve the pharmaceutical industry—specifically for clinical trial recruitment, anti-counterfeiting measures, patient management and vaccine distribution. After working with MDCI Automation, an engineering design and manufacturing firm, BlueMetal, an interactive design and technology-architecture firm, and Talyst, which makes medication management software, Weka Solutions has developed a system to securely dispense and track perishable vaccines via a cloud-connected customized refrigerator.

Alan Lowenstein, Weka Health Solutions' chief operation officer, says the system, called the Vaccine Smart-Fridge, ensures compliance with regulations regarding the handling and cold storage of vaccines, and also provides a means for tracking inventory. MDCI Automation designed, engineered and manufactured the hardware, while Talyst wrote the software that controls the hardware and manages the vaccine distribution, while Blue Metal designed the interface between the appliance and Microsoft's cloud-based Azure IoT suite, where it collects and analyzes data from the appliance. The initial version of the refrigerator, which he calls the alpha model, is currently in use at clinics in Manila and Jakarta, but the second generation, which the company is currently manufacturing, is expected to be available in January (a freezer version will be available soon as well).

The system securely dispenses and tracks perishable vaccines via a cloud-connected customized refrigerator.
The improvements to the second-generation refrigerator include switching the compressor's motor to one that runs on DC power, the addition of a back-up battery unit that keeps the units running during brief power outages, and refinements to the user interface that make it easier for workers to refill the inventory inside the appliance. The use of DC power also means solar panels can be employed to keep the battery charged—a useful feature for health-care facilities in developing countries where grid power is intermittent.

A health-care worker accesses the locked refrigerator by entering his or her identification number into a Microsoft Surface tablet mounted above the appliance. (In the future, Weka Health Solutions may enable this authentication by adding a fingerprint scanner to the tablet, or an RFID reader, for offices that use RFID-enabled personnel badges.)

A list of the vaccines stored in the fridge appears on the screen, and the health-care worker selects which ones are needed. The tablet then shows a list of selected vaccines, the worker confirms or amends the order, and the screen displays a diagram indicating the location of each pre-filled syringe or vial of the selected drug. At this time, the refrigerator door also unlocks and the worker can remove the ordered drugs.

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