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EXCLUSIVE: Leveraging Data Analytics and AI for Effective and Efficient Vaccine Distribution, Administration and Management

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the world, governments, enterprises and industries from the private sector, communities and society in general, continue to face unprecedented challenges.

In the public sector, where governments are trying to keep their citizens safe and the economy running, the onslaught has been unrelenting. Agencies are expected to respond quickly to equip citizens and businesses with the resources to minimise the social and economic consequences.

Recently, the rapid development of vaccines from various pharmaceutical organisations has presented a glimmer of hope to contain COVID-19.  Unfortunately, the rollout of the vaccines has been far from hassle-free. Getting the vaccine from the manufacturing sites to the global population is proving to be a monumental mission – logistic challenges combined with inefficient data management are hindering an effective outreach.

The COVID-19 vaccine distribution and management challenges are of a scale and magnitude no one has ever witnessed and are unprecedented, to say the least. Governments alone cannot address this challenge, and no one organisation can claim an end-to-end solution or capability.  There is an urgent need to plan the processes, infrastructure and organisations in place to manage vaccine administration and distribution adequately and effectively.

Indonesia has rolled out a mass COVID-19 inoculation programme, aiming at vaccinating two-thirds of the population to reach herd immunity within 15 months. The sheer size of the population and its geographical extent – 270 million citizens spreading across more than 17,000 islands – making the task a mammoth one.

Whether in Indonesia or another country, several questions need answering: do the government agencies and healthcare organisations have the tools and methodologies to classify, prioritise and locate at-risk citizens? Do the agencies have the know-how to determine if there is an adequate localised capacity to administer the vaccine and monitor adverse events? What can they do when faced with the unprecedented logistical / supply chain problems of vaccination programmes?

This was the focal point of the OpenGovLive! Virtual Breakfast Insight held on 06 May 2021 and aimed at imparting knowledge on how government agencies, hospitals and healthcare organisations can optimise COVID-19 vaccination distribution, administration, and management effectively and efficiently.

The session served as a great peer-to-peer learning platform to gain insights and practical solutions to understand how to optimise medical resources to reduce mortality rate, infection rate and stopping pandemic quicker.

Utilising Technology to Fight COVID-19

Mohit Sagar: Find suitable partners for your vaccination strategies

To kickstart the session, Mohit Sagar, Group Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief at OpenGov Asia delivered his opening address.

The tail end of 2019 got hit by COVID-19, a crisis so devastating that it brought the world to a standstill almost overnight and has kept on relentlessly till now. Countries all over the world are looking to find ways to keep people safe, healthy and protected – in the short term and for the long haul. While major adjustments – band-aid solutions, or ad-hoc measures, et al – have helped most countries to have a semblance of normalcy, the focus has always been on the development of a vaccine.

And, as a testament to human perseverance and technology’s power, this has been achieved in an incredibly short time.

With the vaccines on hand, the public sector started to look at technologies such as data analytics and artificial intelligence to improve their vaccine rollout – management, administration and distribution. Mohit conceded that adoption of these technologies can help the public sector and healthcare front liners in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic more efficiently and effectively, especially when it comes to vaccination programmes.

But, Mohit asks, do governments honestly know how to fully utilise these disruptive technologies to reap their true benefits? Can they thoroughly understand its purpose in vaccine programmes?

In closing, Mohit emphasised that the utilisation of the tech must go hand in hand with the right partnerships. He urged delegates to find suitable partners in their COVID-19 vaccination endeavours. They must find the right people who do what they do best -and this will allow governments to deliver the much-needed vaccines to communities across all borders.

Data Analytics and AI in Vaccine Distribution

Dr Steve Bennett: The COVID-19 vaccination programme is the greatest logistics mobilisation since World War II

After the opening address, the session heard from Dr Steve Bennett, Director – Public Sector and Financial Services Practice, SAS. He discussed how data analytics and AI helped in various initiatives and response efforts to combat the pandemic.

Steve defines analytics as the scientific process of transforming data into insights for decision making. Data analytics can help leaders make decisions more efficiently and effectively both in their response and recovery efforts.

First, data analytics helped governments in their responses against the pandemic through Epidemiological Modelling and Medical Resource Optimisation. Governments used data analytics to flatten the infection curve while preserving limited resources crucial in the COVID-19 era. Simultaneously, data analytics assisted governments in contact tracing efforts by connecting and understanding data available to help mitigate the spread of the virus. Technologies helped identify specific communities vulnerable to a possible contagion outbreak while Machine Learning and AI helped with accurate projections to anticipate future waves.

Second, AI and Data Analytics aided governments in the recovery phase, specifically in delivering citizen services and benefits. Citing the example of the United Kingdom, Steven said the British government had a range of benefits available to people in need. Like other governments, the nation, too, wanted to make sure that benefits were delivered to the right people – and that’s where technology helped. Similarly in Brazil,  AI and data analytics were successfully deployed to quickly score and validate the right beneficiaries that resources needed to go to.

In terms of citizen centricity, Steve gave the example of a city in Europe that wants to get people back to work in 13 weeks or less if they lose their job. Machine Learning and AI optimally matched the mix of programmes to the right citizens. Knowing the background of people and by having AI/ML map appropriate programmes, the government has seen great results in terms of getting people back to work.

As vaccination programmes are being rolled out across the world, the pandemic seems to be on its tail-end. However, the implementation of a vaccine rollout is “the greatest logistics mobilisation since World War II and (we are) trying to move things on an unprecedented scale”.   Steve conceded that creating and evolving a data-driven mass vaccination plan presents exceptional challenges, including risk identification, provider enrollment, and vaccine administration.

Centrally, governments must classify and locate at-risk citizens and other critical populations, requiring significant data integration and geospatial capabilities. They need to monitor capacity so there adequate localised ability to administer the vaccine and recruit providers even as the supply chain is optimised.

Local governments will be assuming responsibility for managing and approving orders from enrolled providers based on unknown federal allotments. Vaccine providers must prioritise and identify populations​.

Ongoing analytics of vaccination programme​ is vital and necessary. New and existing data must be integrated and analysed to identify administration problems, monitor gaps in care and update vaccine need projections.

Steve emphasised that a phased approach should be applied to vaccination strategies. The first is planning agencies must have the data and analytic tools to effectively plan vaccine administration strategies​. The second is the implementation where they use existing data assets and new collection mechanisms to efficiently vaccinate critical populations. Thirdly, necessary adjustments must be made – decision-makers must constantly adjust based on new information, changing supply and unpredictable demand​.

Understanding the COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Chain

Dr Robert de Souza: The vaccine rollout is not a chain or a network – it’s an ecosystem

The delegates moved to a presentation from Dr Robert de Souza, Executive Director, The Logistics Institute Asia Pacific, who discussed the different factors that affect and make up the COVID-19 vaccine’s supply chain management.

Robert started his presentation by pointing out that the vaccine supply chain might look uncomplicated but is laden with ambiguity. There are several projected challenges due to its scale and complexity. Over 16,000 Boeing 777 flights are needed to ship a double dose vaccination which translates to 7.59 billion vials dose. And to move vaccines end-to-end, over 1.5 trillion data ports are required.

Other factors that complicate the chain are extreme temperature requirements, shelf-life concerns, verifications of unbroken cold chains and the supply of peripherals for vaccine distribution. The ecosystem of actors and policy drivers in an effective vaccine management programme must include the optimisation of storage and locations for cold storage and distribution must be determined. The vaccine routing mix must be prioritised as well as the infrastructure needed for transportation such as modality, multi vs intermodal links for coordinated scheduling.

Governments must be able to match supply and demand and plan for disruptions including the impact of pandemic suppression measures. Inherently, there is an increased need for risk management when it comes to vaccine distribution.

Robert stressed that the COVID-19 vaccination supply chain is unique because it is global and has disturbed equilibrium. It has put globalisation in the spotlight and governments in the centre. Unfortunately, it has created artificial demands and shortages due to demand shocks and supply shocks.

To improve the COVID-19 vaccine’s supply chain performance through greater visibility, governments and organisations must ask the following questions:

  • How distant are distribution centres from strategic infrastructures such as ports and airports?​
  • What are the ideal locations for vaccination/distribution centres?​
  • Are vaccination/distribution centres located ​in disaster-prone areas?
  • What is the geographic distribution of demand? ​
  • How many customers can be served within specific timeframes?​
  • Can demand points be clustered based on geo-information and volumes? ​

In terms of demand clustering, demand points are not all the same. Some are more crucial and may require higher attention. Clustering enables the definition of effective customer-centric strategies. A dynamic simulation consisting of good methods, typically leveraging upon large datasets can be applied.

Strategic infrastructure such as ports and airports enable supply chains to function. A high-level assessment of distances between such infrastructures and supply chain nodes ​is vital. Notably, demand points carry different weights in terms of volumes. An understanding of demand patterns, on the time dimension, enables accurate planning of logistics capacities.

Robert urged delegates to think of a COVID-19 vaccination programme as an ecosystem and not a chain or a network. Decision-makers must ask all the right questions like the “what, from where ​and to where?​ Who,​ when and how”?​ They should remember that increasing data granularity yields more insights​.

When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccination programme, Robert conceded that a wide array of tools and technologies are readily available to address supply chain problems at all levels including strategic, tactical and operational. But the identification of problem statements and data remains a challenge. Governments must embrace digitalisation to achieve operational excellence, supply chain transparency as well as boost financial and service level performance.

OVID-19 Vaccine Cold Chain Logistics Management  

Kelvin Goh: The COVID-19 Vaccine Cold Chain is an unprecedented, complex challenge

Kelvin Goh, APAC AI-IoT Business Development & Global Intelligent Logistics, SAS was the next presenter and discussed how the continuous monitoring and examinability of cold chain logistics of vaccines can help the public sector.  

Right off the bat, Kevin noted that logistics – especially cross-border logistics – is already a complicated task. When coupled with cold chain management, its complexity doubles. 

He expanded on the framework of the vaccine storage and handling toolkit for the delegates to better understand the process. Ideally, the vaccine cold chain flowchart always starts with the manufacturer and then moves to the distribution phase. Only then will it reach the provider/government facilities.  

If the cold chain is not properly maintained, Kevin warns, vaccine potency may be lost, resulting in a useless vaccine supply.  

In terms of cold chain storage and handling optimisation, there must be continuous monitoring, intelligent alerting and efficient decision making. Cold chain logistics monitoring, alerting and decisions can be directly applied to support the challenges of Vaccine Storage and Handling across the regulatory spectrum​.  

The regulatory guidance on Vaccine Storage and Handling is divided into 7 sections​:   

  1. SECTION ONE: Vaccine Cold Chain​  
  2. SECTION TWO: Staff and Training​  
  3. SECTION THREE: Vaccine Storage and Temperature Monitoring Equipment ​  
  4. SECTION FOUR: Vaccine Inventory Management​  
  5. SECTION FIVE: Vaccine Preparation​  
  6. SECTION SIX: Vaccine Transport​  
  7. SECTION SEVEN: Emergency Vaccine Storage and Handling​  

To better handle the pandemic and post-pandemic realities SAS’ Cold Chain for Biologics solution provides monitoring, tracking and optimising capabilities to address the high dimensional and complex nature of biologics logistics. The solution is built on three pillars:  

  1. MONITOR: Create end-to-end transparency for key assets to drive data-enabled action across the supply chain.  
  2. TRACK: Ensure guidelines and protocols are followed for vaccine and biologic distribution/storage while maintaining the integrity of the supply chain for regulatory compliance and patient safety. 
  3. OPTIMISE: Dynamically optimise the cold chain to manage risk, improve efficiency, prevent waste and maximise safety and outcomes.  

Kelvin emphasised that vaccine providers must enable rapid and informed decision-making through real-time analysis of sensor telemetry used in monitoring equipment reliability and the supporting infrastructure critical to the distribution and storage of vaccines​.   

They must also learn to reduce human cognitive and physical workloads through digitisation and automation of associated workflows while maintaining real-time situational awareness of vaccine integrity and availability through intelligent alerting and decision-making technologies.  

Interactive Discussion  

After the informative presentations, delegates participated in interactive discussions facilitated by polling questions. This activity is designed to provide live-audience interaction, promote engagement, hear real-life experiences and impart professional learning and development for participants.   

The opening poll was about the major challenge the delegates face in the current COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Half (50%) of the delegates said that extreme storage requirements are the biggest challenges, while 39% said that transportation and delivery are their main obstacles. Only 11% said that nursing shortages hinder their vaccine distribution.  

The next question focussed on delegates’ perception of data analytics supporting their organisations in the current vaccine distribution. Just over a third (36%) said data analytics can help in identifying the location and concentration of priority populations. The rest of the votes were almost evenly divided. Some felt that analytics could help measure changes in need and demand patterns to optimise supply-chain strategies, while others indicated it could be deployed to monitor the relative adequacy of providers capable of vaccinating critical populations.  

Febrianto Siboro: The pandemic is extraordinary; solutions must be equally extraordinary”

Asked about the stage of readiness their organisations was in handling the vaccine distribution, just over a third (35%) said that target populations and vaccination strategies are almost ready. Over a quarter (26%) revealed that human resources management and training were in place, while 22% said that planning and coordination are set.  

While all agreed that data analytics plays a vital role in vaccination programmes, delegates were asked which aspect of analytics solutions would be their priority for their country’s vaccine strategies. Half (50%) of the delegates said that analytics will greatly help in vaccination programme analytics, while 25% said it would optimise the supply chain. A fifth (20%) said it will improve prioritising and identifying populations. 

To round off the discussion, delegates were polled on what their main strategy to encourage long-term growth after the COVID-19 pandemic would beOver half (52%) said that a digital transformation strategy remains at the top. Other votes were almost evenly divided between improving workforce skillsets, preserving productive companies, supporting public R&D and tax incentives for corporate innovation investment. 

Conclusion  

Febrianto Siboro, Managing Director, SAS Indonesia closed the session with concluding remarks. He believes that the current pandemic situation is extraordinary and, therefore, the solution to recover the national economy must be equally extraordinary. 

In line with the Indonesian government’s missions for technological innovation, SAS provides solutions based on data to answer the needs of all public sectors including healthcare. Key in this is clean, efficient data management. With good quality data, AI can generate key insights on trends and patterns that will eventually solve complex problems and accelerate decision making. 

While COVID-19 may have forced all countries to restart, it has at the same time, presented the opportunity for all developing nations, including Indonesia, to transition into developed ones.

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