MSU Professor: 'Scanning Babies' Fingerprints Will Save Lives Through Vaccination Tracking'

Dawn Papple

A professor at Michigan State University says that each year 2.5 million children die in the world because they do not receive their vaccinations in a timely manner and scanning the fingerprints of all babies to track vaccination status would help increase the coverage and save lives.

Michigan State University professor Anil Jain is in the midst of developing a fingerprint-based recognition vaccination tracking method for infants and toddlers, according to Science Daily. Jain said that tracking vaccination status will increase coverage and the traditional method of tracking by paper documentation is ineffective in developing countries where the most children die from diseases that have vaccines associated with them.

"Paper documents are easily lost or destroyed," Jain said. "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."

Jain and his team of researchers have visited health facilities in rural areas of West Africa where the team tested the new fingerprint-recognition vaccination tracking system. The team is creating a vaccination registry system based off of the data obtained. Then, when one of these children visit a healthcare system that uses the vaccine registry system, healthcare workers will know exactly which vaccines the children are behind on and a booster shot can be administered, according to Science Daily.

Jain claims that the primary problem of maintaining the vaccine schedule in third world countries where childhood diseases are often deadly is the lack of information about the vaccination status of the children there.

"The process can still be improved but we have shown its feasibility," Jain said of his fingerprint-recognition technology. "We will continue to work on refining the fingerprint matching software and finding the best reader to capture fingerprints of young children, which will be of immense global value. We also plan to conduct a longitudinal study to ensure that fingerprints of babies can be successfully matched over time."

"Solving the puzzle of fingerprinting young children will have far-reaching implications beyond health care, including the development of civil registries, government benefits' tracking and education recordkeeping," Mark Thomas executive director of VaxTrac, the nonprofit organization supporting Jain's research, said.

According to UNICEF, vaccination tracking is only a part of the reason why children in developing countries die from these diseases.

"These children die because they are poor, they do not have access to routine immunization or health services, their diets lack sufficient vitamin A and other essential micronutrients, and they live in circumstances that allow pathogens (disease-causing organisms) to thrive," according to UNICEF, which has been working with the makers of the new vaccine registry system. "The possibility that children will become seriously ill or die depends largely on whether their immune systems can fight off infections. Malnutrition, combined with unsanitary or crowded conditions, makes them extremely vulnerable. Measles, for instance, rarely kills in industrial countries but can cause up to 40 percent mortality among infected children in dire and overcrowded situations which may occur following earthquakes, floods or when populations are displaced by conflict."

VaxTrac, which received an additional investment of $695,431 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last year to support the fingerprint-based vaccine registry systems in West Africa, just announced the start of the integration of the system in Nepal, as well.

[Photo via VaxTrac on Facebook]