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Safeguarding the Covid-19 vaccine distribution: Evaluating the role of blockchain

Blockchain is promoted as a trust-building technology to protect information in insecure environments, including safeguarding the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and other medical products from corruption. However, real-world application is still limited. International organisations should examine blockchain’s effectiveness against the many challenges identified by research and pilots. Context matters, and blockchain’s effectiveness depends on factors such as technical capacity, trust, and a political commitment to reduce corruption.

23 June 2022
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Main points

  • Covid-19 vaccine supply chains are exposed to corruption, theft, and falsification of vaccines and vaccination certificates. This can fuel public distrust and limit coverage.
  • ‘Blockchain’ is a distributed ledger technology which is often promoted as having the potential to reduce corruption risks and deficiencies in supply chain management.
  • Blockchain’s theoretical potential runs far ahead of its real-world use. Although only a few pilots are underway, there is momentum and interest in using blockchain to help address leakages, build trust, and secure an equitable distribution of vaccines.
  • The reality is that the necessary conditions for blockchain to be effective are likely to be in places where corruption risks in supply chains are already low. The integrity of medical supply chains depends on factors such as political stability, collaboration among relevant interest groups, responsive legal frameworks, and technological capacity. These are also the conditions in which blockchain is most likely to be an effective tool.
  • In fragile states, using blockchain can be challenging and more empirical research is required.
  • International organisations, including aid donors, may consider the use of blockchain for supply chain management after evaluating the costs versus the benefits – as well as understanding how different designs will affect its performance in disparate settings.
  • Funders and health organisations should invest in learning and training to understand how blockchain could contribute to reducing corruption in the health sector. It is also important to recognise the likely time scale, costs of projects, the need for integration with existing systems, and critical steps required for pilots, evaluation, and roll-out.

Cite this publication

Cepeda Cuadrado, D.; Sejerøe Hausenkamph, D.; Aarvik, P.; Cardona, C.; Turati, M.; Mejia Pardo, N.; (2022) Safeguarding the Covid-19 vaccine distribution: Evaluating the role of blockchain. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2022:5)

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About the authors

Daniela Cepeda Cuadrado is a U4 anti-corruption adviser, coordinating U4's health theme and working with donor agencies and multilateral organisations to mainstream anti-corruption efforts in the health sector. Daniela is a policy analyst and researcher with experience working with UN agencies, civil society, and academia in the fields of anti-corruption, health, and sustainable development.

Daniel Sejerøe Hausenkamph is a U4 adviser and public health professional with an interest in anti-corruption, health systems, and digitalisation.

Per Aarvik

Per is an independent writer on applied digital technology for humanitarianism, development, governance and anti-corruption. Social media data, satellite imagery, geographical information systems, and applied artificial intelligence are among his interests. He holds a Master's degree in Democracy Building from the Department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen, Norway. His thesis focused on the potential of crowdsourced civil society election monitoring as a tool to combat election fraud. His background is from journalism, advertising, and higher design education – as a practitioner, educator, and in managerial roles. In recent years, he has led digital humanitarian work during disasters and in democracy projects.

Clara Cardona

Clara Cardona is a researcher and policy analyst consultant with experience in designing and implementing social and development projects for the public and private sector, UN agencies, and non-profit organisations. She was previously responsible for city entrepreneurship reports, research activities related to entrepreneurship, and leading activities in South America for enpact.

Marcelino Turati

Marcelino Turati works at the crossroads between innovation, entrepreneurship and governmental relations. He holds a masters in public policy, a masters tax law and has a business administration and economics background. Currently he is leading the efforts in the American continent and he is the program manager for the AfricaBerlin network at enpact.

Natalia Mejia Pardo

Natalia Mejia Pardo is a political scientist with a master in public policy from the Hertie School. She specialises in digital health and is interested in the intersection between entrepreneurship, technology, and social impact. Natalia is currently working as the Lead of Research at SeeMe Health – a digital health startup, and previously worked as a policy analyst at enpact.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)