How software can enable efficient vaccine distribution

By Dr. William Bain
Dr. William Bain, CEO and founder of ScaleOut Software, explains how software technology is enabling effective vaccine distribution...

After the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines received the stamp of approval, the US faced the immense challenge of quickly building a nationwide logistics network and standing up more than 50,000 vaccination centers. Unfortunately, significant missteps have slowed this vital effort, including 20 million missing COVID-19 vaccine doses, reports of thousands of unused doses, canceled vaccinations due to shortages, and a series of other issues. 

It’s clear that our healthcare industry needs more effective tracking of vaccine distribution and delivery to meet current needs, to later roll out COVID-19 variant boosters, and to prepare for future pandemics. 

Making vaccine distribution and delivery run smoothly requires accurate, real-time information about all aspects of the distribution network. This information can help guide federal and state health agencies, healthcare providers, and other groups that work together as a joint operation to implement vaccine delivery. Key questions that this real-time information can answer include: 

⦁ Where are all the vaccine shipments right now?

⦁ What is the shortfall in vaccines at each centre?

⦁ How many people are waiting for vaccines at each centre?

⦁ How many qualified medical personnel are available at each centre?

⦁ Which centres have the most urgent needs and need immediate attention?

⦁ Is vaccine distribution underserving certain regions or population groups?

Given the unique and highly dynamic nature of this challenge, the healthcare industry needs information processing technologies that are fast enough to generate this information, able to digest data streams from millions of data sources, and agile enough to adapt to evolving needs. A powerful new software technique, called “in-memory computing,” has recently emerged with the ability to meet these requirements. It offers managers an important tool for boosting their situational awareness as they identify and tackle problems in vaccine distribution. 

Fast-changing data analysis

In-memory computing software is designed to track and analyse large volumes of fast-changing data in real-time. It can then aggregate results within seconds to give managers a complete visual picture of how a logistics network for vaccine distribution is performing. This enables managers to immediately spot emerging problems, such as a vaccine shortfall in a particular region, and take steps to remedy the situation. 

In-memory computing software can simultaneously examine messages from thousands of vaccination centres, update each centre's status, and immediately evaluate which centre are most in need of assistance.

To make all this possible, in-memory computing software can maintain a component, called a “real-time digital twin,” for each vaccination centre to keep track of key status information about the center. As it receives periodic messages from personnel at the centre, it updates its information and looks for problems. For example, it can track the real-time supply of vaccines, current demand (number of waiting recipients), the number of people vaccinated, the availability of trained personnel to perform injections, and much more. 

With this information, it can quickly compute the current vaccine shortfall. Application software that runs in a real-time digital twin can be quickly written to analyse a single vaccination centre and then deployed to simultaneously track thousands of centres. This technique can also be applied to vaccine shipments to keep track of their location, condition, and destination.

Digital twins

The in-memory computing software platform continuously aggregates status information maintained by thousands of real-time digital twins to provide managers with an overarching view of key statistics for the complete network of 50,000+ vaccination centres. 

For example, it can aggregate the shortfall in vaccine doses by region to quickly pinpoint which regions have the greatest immediate needs. This allows managers to determine where vaccine shipments should be directed to balance overall distribution.

To address the current COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future ones, it is vital that managers have immediate access to the information they need to ensure timely and efficient delivery of life-saving vaccinations. Because of its ability to analyse fast-changing data scale, in-memory computing software using real-time digital twins has the potential to meet this need.

This technology is agile; it can be quickly deployed and updated as requirements evolve. By providing a key missing piece of the logistics puzzle faced by managers at both the national and state level, it can help unlock the logjam in vaccine distribution to meet this daunting challenge.


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