Salesforce chief medical officer shares company's strategy to help vaccinate 2 billion people in 2021

Salesforce GM & chief medical officer as Salesforce, discusses the company's new vaccine cloud technology, and how Salesforce is helping to vaccinate more than two billion people around the world by the end of 2021.

Salesforce CMO Dr. Ashwini Zenooz discusses tech's critical role in COVID-19 vaccinations

Tech companies like Salesforce are playing a key role in helping governments and businesses respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. I recently spoke with Dr. Ashwini Zenooz, chief medical officer at Salesforce, to talk about the company's new Vaccine Cloud technology, and how Salesforce is helping to vaccinate more than two billion people around the world by the end of 2021. The following is a transcript of our interview edited for readability.

Salesforce Vaccine Cloud: Responding to COVID-19

Bill Detwiler: So, Salesforce has been doing a lot to help companies and governments respond to COVID. Walk me through the timeline from maybe Work.com all the way up to the most recent announcement around a Vaccine Cloud.

Salesforce Dr Ashwini Zenooz GM and Chief Medical Officer

Ashwini M. Zenooz, MD, GM and Chief Medical Officer at Salesforce

Image: Salesforce

Dr. Ashwini Zenooz: Many of you probably have seen the media, but we've been really active fairly early on in the pandemic. Everything from mobilization efforts for delivering PPE, we got 60 million PPE out there at the very beginning in March to realizing that technology was really essential here to help with the pandemic response. So in May we released Work.com and that was essentially a command center with emergency response management and contact tracing technology to ensure that businesses and governments could think about reopening safely. While many of us have this ability to work from home, there are some essential workers that needed to get back in, and we wanted to make sure that we had technology that we were providing to help those organizations and governments.

Since then we added on additional capabilities that was Work.com for Vaccines initially, but quickly realized that those capabilities were some of a much larger component that was required for this massive rollout for the vaccines. So we just announced Vaccine Cloud. It's essentially an end-to-end management platform that allows for logistics, supply chain inventory management, to administration from scheduling, to call backs, to outcomes monitoring and reporting back. So it's an end-to-end vaccine management system.

Bill Detwiler: What's the real difference between maybe Work.com for Vaccines and now Vaccine Cloud. I think in my research Work.com for Vaccines was more focused on government clients and with Vaccines Cloud it's expanded beyond that also to the pharmaceutical companies that might be doing the administration, healthcare organizations like that. Give me a little bit of a breakdown on what's different.

Dr. Ashwini Zenooz: Yeah, you're absolutely right. So when we released Work.com for Vaccines, we saw a lot of uptake by the governments because that's where the capabilities were helping, but we quickly realized that everybody's going to be involved in this effort and everyone needs to coordinate this effort across businesses like nonprofits, educational institutions, and other businesses that are coming back. So Vaccine Cloud is essentially a configuration of our core applications, Health Cloud, Service Cloud, Experience Cloud, etc...also platform Tableau, MuleSoft capabilities. We've brought this all together so that our partners can use this to deliver vaccine administration management solutions for governments and businesses like you said. The goal here is to provide a validated reference architecture so that you can scale these vaccine administration management applications globally. So that sort of the difference between the two. I'm happy to add more context.

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Tech's critical role in COVID-19 vaccination programs

Bill Detwiler: I'd love to dive down into that point which is, how critical is technology to being able to roll out a vaccine program globally like this? I mean, this is a massive logistical challenge. It's a massive scheduling challenge. It's a massive data collection and analysis challenge. It's not like that would be possible without the public private partnership between governments and companies like Salesforce.

Dr. Ashwini Zenooz: Yeah. This is the largest public health initiative in US History, is how I would put it just to give context. I've been in government before. I have been on the front lines, helping manage epidemics and natural disasters, and I will tell you that this is quite complex. Everything from getting all of these vaccines to get through the FDA-EUA process, to ensuring that they're getting to the places that are getting distributed, in the right place, the right time, with the right temperature. You've got ultra cold storage requirements right now with the two vaccines that have been approved. You've got multi-dose requirements, right? All of these required two dose requirements right now, coordinating the callbacks. You've got a call back for the right... if you've got Moderna Bill, you got a call back to get Moderna. So you have to have inventory management for that, right?

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Salesforce Vaccine Cloud - Monitoring patient outcomes

Credit: Salesforce

Any sort of reporting, whether you're having a minor reaction or cough afterwards or adverse reaction like anaphylaxis, all of this has to get reported up to the county and state and CDC systems. So this requires extensive collaboration. And I've said this before, you can't do this with phone calls and spreadsheets and texting back and forth, right? You're trying deliver that just in the US alone vaccines across a 330 million people times two, globally that's on the order of billions of doses that have to get coordinated. I'll just add to that like I said, a former public health official, it's not just enough to just get some doses out there, right? It's not just enough to get vaccines on the shelves. What matters at the end of the day is shot in arms. And that requires also extensive communications, right? You've got to make sure that people understand that this is a safe vaccine.

You've got to get data out there so that people are hearing how safe it is, so that they actually come and get the vaccines. That too requires technology. Some of this you could do, which is what we're doing here today, talking to media, but some of it's going to require training. The people on the front lines are picking up the phone calls, giving them... We're talking to governments, we're talking to hospitals about how can we help their frontline people help answer some of these basic questions with technology. Give them the right information, right? So very, very complex logistics. And technology, we're used to scaling these across millions and millions of people in a safe and reliable way. So it's a great accelerator here.

SEE: Can the US solve its COVID-19 vaccination supply chain problems? (TechRepublic)

Bill Detwiler: I know you have a history, you were at the VA. So you're used to working with these large sometimes very slow moving systems that weren't really designed and maybe because of historical context, or maybe sometimes for safety reasons to sort of rapidly change. But how important is it that we shift our thinking, as you said and maybe move more rapidly in embracing technology, whether it's logistics and training tools and outcome tracking and data analytics that you've built into Vaccine Cloud to help organizations do all these things, or even things like just telemedicine. Because I know that was one of the things that you have actually championed in the past. I guess the question is how successful do you think companies like Salesforce have been at convincing governments and maybe slower moving organizations and even patients to jump on the bandwagon and use technology to its fullest extent?

Dr. Ashwini Zenooz: I mean, I would say when I first joined Salesforce two and a half years ago, a lot of the stuff we were talking about with digital transformation, we got a lot of our healthcare and life scientist customers using it, but many of the things were, "Wow, this is a transformation let's work towards that." I think the pandemic has only shown how important these technology tools are and why digital transformation matters, right? So I would say it has appended the strategy. People have basically ripped up whatever strategy they had last year and said, let's reuse this. I think telemedicine has gone up 150 X, right? People are realizing all that stuff about elderly people not using technology is hogwash, right? We saw that. When I was at the VA, we scaled telemedicine to all of these seniors and people use it.

People use it when technology is easy and it's safe, and that they can trust it, right? So when you're bringing technology and tools to help them get their care when and where they need it. If they are at home and they can click a button and get on with their doctor and have a conversation about something and they don't actually need to be seen in the office and it makes their life easy. If you can click a button, their doctor's office orders a prescription, it shows up at your house, this is a retail experience for healthcare. Why wouldn't somebody want it? And it's safe and you've got continuity. We're putting people on marketing cloud journey. So you're actually getting feedback to say, how was your experience? What do you need? It looks like you haven't filled your prescription? All of these things are great tools that other industries have been using for years now.

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Salesforce Vaccine Cloud vaccination scheduler

Credit: Salesfroce

I think the pandemic, if anything, has shown, this is very useful in healthcare. People want it. It's the same people like you and I that are clicking a button on Amazon and purchasing something. It's the same group of people that are going to get our healthcare. I mean, let me tell you, as a working mom and a working professional, I don't want to spend 30 minutes driving to my doctor, waiting in the waiting room, and then coming back for 30 minutes. That takes hours out of my day. If it's just a follow-up appointment, I want to hop on, right? And same goes for vaccines. Why do I want to go sit in line and wait hours and hours when I can click a button on my turn.ca.gov for California, register myself and say, "Tell me when I'm eligible." I get a text message back saying, "You're eligible. Come in. Do you want to schedule your appointment?" I go online. I schedule it.

If you have the ability to use these technology tools, I think it's incredible. I think we're also now starting to train people to help some of these elderly folks so that they can have the tools and have the training to get on. And we're seeing incredible uptake. So I think this is only the beginning of the tech transformation in healthcare and life sciences and in public sector. I know for governments, I don't think they need much convincing. Governments have been quickly recognizing that this is really important. I know on our side, just with the Vaccine Cloud that we announced, we have already 35 international federal global and state organizations that have signed up, like the Lake County of Illinois, the State of California, Global Alliance for Vaccines. I don't think there's an issue in saying this could be helpful.

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Gavi & Salesforce: Equitably distributing the COVID-19 vaccine

Bill Detwiler: Obviously. So I want to follow up with something you mentioned. We're talking about technology and when it comes to wealthier nations, more technologically advanced nations they have the ability and their citizens have the ability to take advantage of that technology. But there's a vast portion of the world that isn't as connected, that don't have the resources to invest like the wealthier countries do. As public health official you know and I hope we're able to convince people that no one is safe until everyone is safe. And it really is important that we vaccinate everybody as opposed to a small group, a country, a county, a state, a local jurisdiction. So talk to me about some of Salesforce has efforts to help vaccinate people around the globe.

Dr. Ashwini Zenooz: I mean, I'll just start off by saying we live in a globalized economy and people are traveling all over the place. Once this restrictions lifted and we started getting herd immunity and countries, you're going to see a lot more mobilization, right? People are going to be more mobile and traveling around, airlines will start opening up. Which also means that if you have part of the population of the world that is not vaccinated, you're going to have more strains. This particular virus you've seen it's mutating very quickly and is becoming more variant and more transmissible with many of these mutations. You've heard about South Africa variant, Brazil variant, et cetera. So why does that matter?

Salesforce quote Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi

Quote from Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, on collaboration with Salesforce to distribute 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021

Image: Salesforce

It matters because you can't just operate in a silo. It's incumbent on all of us as global citizens to say, it's not just about me getting vaccinated I got to make sure that those people in those countries, like you said, that that don't have the access to technology maybe not as a rich countries also need to get vaccinated, because all of those strains are going to travel and we're going to need to start keep thinking about mutations. So for us, it's really important. I mean, I talked about a Global Alliance for Vaccines being one of our customers. They've been a customer of ours for years. And so we decided to work with them. We're actually giving our services pro bono for the first page, because we want to enable them to do what they have to do to get this under control. They are trying to deliver two billion vaccines to 190 countries by the end of this year. I mean, fingers crossed. We can do more, right?

So we are providing technology. Coordinating across a couple of states is hard enough, but coordinating across 190 countries is a pretty large task. So they're using our technology to power their COVAX platform. What this essentially does is each of these countries has the ability to now organize and communicate and manage their inventory to talk about where they are, how much more do they need, how much are they getting out the door, how many people are vaccinated. All of these collaborative tools and communications are done on this platform and we are powering it. And we're so excited to be a part of it.

SEE: How cybercriminals are now exploiting COVID-19 vaccines (TechRepublic)

Bill Detwiler: I'd like to ask you one last question and I think it pulls from everything you've talked about with the vaccines and this being an inflection point for technology in medicine, which is where do you see technology going in healthcare over the next maybe five years, if we have reached this, like I said, inflection point with the pandemic where we're not going back to the way it was before, what do you see on the horizon, maybe in the near term, and then a little further out about how technology is going to influence how healthcare is delivered, how patients interact with the providers, how healthcare is build, what are the big technologies that you see happening?

Dr. Ashwini Zenooz: When I think of health and healthcare, there are so many industries that are impacted by this. This everybody from your hospital providers, your insurance companies, your pharmaceutical companies, medical device organizations, public sector healthcare, retailers that are engaged in this, manufacturers that are working with us. And I think technology affects all of those areas. But to sort of give you a general path, I would say, where we're headed is not just talking about personalization of healthcare, it is here. It is here and we've got to do a lot more. That means not just providing a video two-way communication for tele-health. It means a robust tele-health system that's part of your ecosystem.

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Credit: Salesforce

So that when you go in to see somebody in person, whether you go get your telemedicine appointment, whether they're having you remote monitored home if you're diabetic and you were CGM, all of these have to be connected experiences. People are going to expect that all of these systems are connected and when a physician is seeing you, that they have a longitudinal view of taking care of you. So I think that's really important. I would say also on the other end, pharmaceutical companies if they haven't realized now they're going to lose. What they're realizing and recognizing is it's not enough to just have people going in and driving 30, 60 minutes to participate in clinical trials. You've got to have these de-centralized clinical trials using technology where some of this is happening and people can participate from wherever they are in trials.

You can do majority of the appointments from home for followups. You could provide options for remote monitoring. All of these things for decentralized trials are going to become really important. And then just the way businesses work, right? I don't think we're going back to the way we used to operate pre-pandemic. That means you're going to have virtual selling continue. You're going to have virtual contact centers continue. So all of these sort of business operations and the technology behind it with the payments and billing, all of these things need to be much more automated. So I think we're going to see movement towards that direction. And I am so excited about that.

Bill Detwiler: I am as well. I really can't wait for the day that... You have a variety of underlying technologies, whether it's IoT and 5G and Cloud and Data Analytics and AI that are sort of constantly monitoring your health on a regular basis. When I talk to doctors and healthcare providers, that's one of the biggest things. The barriers that they have is that they can't do the testing, or they can't get the data from some individuals on a telemedicine call right now, like it would get in the office.

It sounds like we're on the cusp of being able to... With IoT devices and wearables that can track not only say your heartbeat, but actually do medical grade EKG or help detect AFib early, that used to be, "Hey, I've got to go in and see your cardiologist," which reduces strokes, which can detect congestive heart failure, all these kinds of things. Also other types of analysis tools that maybe people don't think about. How long do you think it is before the doctor can sit down and get a lot of that information virtually that they may be had to have someone come in and give them in person?

Dr. Ashwini Zenooz: I mean, if you're looking for the Star Trek tricorder that just sort of scans you and tells you what's wrong with you, I think we're far away from that. What I would tell you is, I don't think we're that far away from your clinicians getting your data, from you having your IoT devices monitoring at home, them getting feedback reading it in their offices, and messaging you or calling you because you need to come in. I think that's here. And I think you're going to see much more rapid adoption over the next few years of how this becomes a part of our life. And I think that's what's important.

You can't have this in silos where you're just wearing a watch that tells you something and you've got nowhere to go. That's not really helpful. But if that's connected where you can send that information to your clinician and they tell you that it is normal, it is not normal and give you follow up. That makes it so much more meaningful from an engagement perspective. I think technology ecosystem that's becomes part of your broader healthcare ecosystem I think it's here and it's going to keep improving.

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By Bill Detwiler

Bill Detwiler is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the ...