Keeping track of which vaccines children have received is tricky enough when performed in an industrialized nation’s well-established healthcare system. The task is far more challenging when talking about emerging nations or undeveloped parts of the world. According to World Health Organization information quoted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2.4 million children die from vaccine-preventable diseases every year.
One of the complicating factors is delivering the right vaccines at the right time, which means knowing the vaccines that a particular child has received and those that he or she has not. Depending on parents retaining paper-based documentation in developing countries is an inefficient method. So, researchers at Michigan State University are developing a new way to track vaccine schedules for individuals through scanning fingerprints.
Leading the project is Professor Anil Jain. “Paper documents are easily lost or destroyed,” the university quoted Jain as saying. “Our initial study has shown that fingerprints of infants and toddlers have great potential to accurately record immunizations. You can lose a paper document, but not your fingerprints.”
Testing the theory in Benin, West Africa, Jain and others used an optical fingerprint scanner to record the thumb and index fingerprints of babies and toddlers. All healthcare workers will need to do is rescan the fingers to retrieve the records and identify which vaccines a child has already received.
It may sound easy, but it isn’t. Infants and toddlers don’t necessarily like to hold still and they haven’t developed the depth of ridges create enough contrast for fingerprints that are easy to scan. Jain and the other researchers plan to refine the fingerprint reading software, test different scanning hardware, and undertake a study to see that they can successfully match children’s identities over time.
The group isn’t the only one using computers to track vaccines. According to nonprofit organization PATH, as much as half of vaccines go missing between manufacturing and delivery. That means millions of needed lost doses, which could translate into lost lives. The organization has been working with others to develop a bar code system, much as you’d find on products in a grocery store, to track individual vials of vaccine. Information is being kept in cloud systems for ready international access. Not only will the information help track vaccines, but should generate information that can aid in finding inefficiencies in shipment methods and, ultimately, better and more cost-efficient ways to get vaccines to where they are needed.