Gates-funded computer model tackles vaccine woes

Vaccines spoil quickly under certain conditions and leave people who are vulnerable to disease without jabs. Now computer models developed at the University of Pittsburgh could help planners avert shortages due to interruptions in a vaccine supply chain in Niger.

The group's modeling was used to predict the impact of changes in the vaccine supply chain--such as the introduction of new shots against rotavirus and 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine--in Niger. The models forecasted that the adding of these vaccines to the African country's supply chain could trigger a 24% to 69% drop in availability of certain vaccines, according to the group's study, which is set to appear in next month's issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded the work through its support of the Vaccine Modeling Initiative, according to the group's release.

Computer modeling is used widely in industries such as manufacturing and transportation to spot potential bottlenecks in supply chains, yet the technology hasn't caught on quite as fast in planning vaccine distribution. Vaccines pose notoriously difficult challenges to supply chains because they typically require cold storage and suffer damage when exposed to the elements, making them useless and exposing patients to health risks if received.

"New vaccines may not fit smoothly into supply chains and therefore fail to reach their target populations easily," Dr. Bruce Lee, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology and biomedical informatics at Pitt, said in a statement. "These problems may prevent other vaccines from reaching clinics as well. Manufacturers and policymakers should consider vaccine quantity and packaging before designing vaccines and introducing them in unfamiliar areas with limited resources."

- here's the release