If we are to “beat the virus” we’ll need to effectively prioritize the populations that get the vaccine first. It’s not as if the full amount of vaccine needed to serve the people of the world will all be available at once — it will be manufactured and delivered in phases. The ideal and most equitable strategy is to first vaccinate the people with the highest risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 — healthcare workers on the front lines. From there, prioritization will look at other highly exposed groups, like essential workers. There will be a focus on people who are more likely to have severe disease (older individuals and those with certain medical conditions) as well as people in situations that could increase transmission of the virus, like in congregate living conditions (nursing homes, university dormitories, prisons). All this to say that equitable access is key, not equal access and not prioritization based on factors like wealth and national resources.
It seems clear that there will be more than one vaccine made available to combat COVID-19. That’s good. However, the vaccine candidates currently in the final stages of clinical trials have very different requirements, both for the level of cold storage and for the dosing regimen. So far, the top candidate vaccines each require two doses, but they are given at different intervals. In addition one vaccine candidate requires ultra-cold storage while the other has a more standard cold storage requirement. This means that some places may not be able to accommodate storage requirements for both vaccines and that the delivery of vaccine will need to be carefully tracked individual to individual for proper delivery of both doses. The challenges continue from there.
Since the outbreak, government and healthcare leaders have relied on GIS and location technologies for real-time visualization dashboards, data sharing, analysis, and planning. The same approach will prove crucial for vaccine distribution.
As I have written in my blog, the time is now for leaders to fine-tune the planning related to priority and delivery of the vaccines, assess logistics with public health and emergency management advisors, analyze supply chain capacity and operations, and determine a communication strategy. For all of these efforts, GIS will be foundational to help plan, implement, and manage efficient, equitable vaccine distribution.
In the US, for example, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in coordination with Department of Defense (DoD) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recently provided a strategic vaccine distribution overview along with an interim playbook for state, tribal, territorial, and local public health programs and their partners.
The agencies outline next steps that include engaging with other leaders, stakeholders, and the public; distributing vaccines quickly and with transparency; ensuring safe administration and availability; and monitoring necessary data through an IT system capable of supporting and tracking distribution, administration, and other necessary data. GIS is an integral part of that IT system, and will be central to vaccine distribution efforts, supporting engagement with stakeholders and the public as well as providing real-time awareness and transparency.
There are five key ways GIS can support COVID-19 vaccine distribution to help health agencies and governments execute their plans and end this pandemic as quickly as possible.
Health departments need to develop a detailed view of the priority populations. At the same time, they need to assess the additional burdens these populations may face, such as lack of transportation or barriers to communication for non-native speakers.
There are many ways that location intelligence can support the logistical challenges.
Work has begun in these areas, yes. Esri is sharing information and supporting our customers who are requesting help. Some customers are primarily focused on population prioritization efforts while others are looking to stand up vaccine inventory tracking systems. I’m not able to provide more details than that at this time.
I hate to think that this should be an issue, but of course, security is definitely an issue. Location intelligence can absolutely enhance security planning and monitoring, so it would make sense for the geospatial community to assist colleagues in the security and intelligence community. As I’ve mentioned previously, sharing up to date information, giving leaders a common operating picture, should help to evaluate the system in progress, spot security weaknesses, and improve lead time toward response.
Honestly, my first thought is “how fast can we work?” My second thought is “What don’t we know yet or have not anticipated?” If there is anything to be grateful for in the timing of this pandemic, I think its that GIS has evolved to support powerful web GIS capabilities and easy configuration of tools for faster success. This knowledge helps to calm my anticipation about what needs to be done. That said, there is much to do and we stand ready to help governments prepare for this effort.
I think it’s about balance – and has been for some time. We can go out and do many of the social and cultural activities of daily living – as long as we wear masks and social distance. We cannot forget hand washing and disinfecting. They remain important. If we diligently take these steps, and try not to lose interest in the process, we will all be safer out in the world. It’s not easy to remain dedicated to these preventive measures over such a long time period, so I think it’s important to regularly remind ourselves of the big picture. To be successful in balancing our health, social and economic lives at this time, we all need to participate fully. No one is safe unless everyone is safe.