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Health, Science & Tech

Knowing Vaccine Logistics Can Save Lives

New research from the University of Pittsburgh has found that simply adding a new vaccine to an existing supply chain can actually do more harm than good. "If your goal is to get new vaccines out to people with a goal of trying to prevent substantial diseases, you can actually inhibit the flow of other vaccines," said Bruce Lee, M.D, assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology and biomedical informatics at the University of Pittsburgh. "If you don't have enough planning you can inadvertently do more harm than good."

Lee and his fellow researchers have built a computational modeling tool that can assess the evolving needs of the vaccine supply chain. The modeling can forecast the impact of new vaccine introduction and identify potential disruptions. The study will appear in the November issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"The effects can be very complicated and they can propagate through a system in very complicated ways," said Lee, "Many times we think that there is a simple fix to something but we don't anticipate what is going to happen down the whole chain."

Lee thinks computational models can help vaccines makers, public health officials, and charities see the pitfalls before they are encountered. The study to be published focused on the impact of introducing rotavirus vaccine and the 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine to Niger's Expanded Programs on Immunization vaccine supply chain. Introducing the vaccines could decrease vaccine availability by 24% to 69%, according to the study.


But for the modeling to be effective, it needs to be adopted by everyone in the supply chain, from the manufacture to the clinic. "[T]hat's where we see the utility of computational modeling," said Lee. The models can create a very clear picture of what needs to be done and the negative impacts of not following the best possible solution.

Lee said he and his team are talking to governments and nonprofit organizations in West Africa and South East Asia about using the tool. It can also be used in developed nations where supply chains are very different but just as complex.