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School of Public Health Co-Creates Interactive Planning Tool To Aid COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Brigham and Women's is one of several University-affiliated hospitals in the Boston area.
Brigham and Women's is one of several University-affiliated hospitals in the Boston area. By Madeline R. Lear
By Isabella B. Cho and Ashley R. Masci, Contributing Writers

Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital developed a new vaccine allocation tool that will help local and state leaders across the nation strategize the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, according to a press release last week.

The technology enables states to prioritize vulnerable populations using localized data as they plan vaccine distribution. It follows allocation guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

Ariadne Labs, a health systems innovation center run by HSPH and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the health nonprofit Surgo Foundation launched the vaccine allocation planner in late October.

Vaccine allocation guidelines released by NASEM outline four major phases of vaccine distribution that prioritize high-risk populations. Phase 1A includes frontline workers in medical facilities and first responders, while Phase 1B includes those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Rebecca L. Weintraub, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who co-developed the technology, said the new tool will help states account for vaccine scarcity when preparing for distribution.

“The demand is quite complex to predict because there’s so many concerns regarding vaccine confidence,” she said. “Even so, we’ll still face scarcity, and so we’re hoping this tool helps you manage the scarcity, understand how to plan for equitable distribution, and pace expectations.”

By inputting demographic data into the planner, local leaders can identify groups with the highest need for a vaccine. Weintraub said the interactive tool allows viewers to easily comprehend and draw conclusions from the statistics.

“You can view it as a graph, or you can hit a table and download the data or a map that’s helpful for you to visualize vaccine coverage,” she said.

The tool will also estimate the size of high-risk populations to help states develop strategies for vaccine allocation and execute their plans. Weintraub said she hopes this technology will help local leaders both efficiently and equitably distribute vaccines.

“I think there’s an incredible role in the midst of an infodemic — the volume of information that we’ve generated in this pandemic — to create tools that help plan and predict and scenario plan for not only effective but equitable distribution,” she said.

Weintraub also noted that the planner will continuously improve as new data and insights become available. Specifically, the tool will track the progression of vaccines through their four phases of clinical trials.

“We’ll continue to update the planner to represent the pace of the science, the pace of this phase three trial and phase four data that come out,” she said.

When COVID-19 vaccines are made available to the public, there will most likely be multiple versions that constitute a portfolio, Weintraub said. She added that as the virus continues to evolve, a varied portfolio of vaccines will be essential in addressing the diverse needs of populations across the world.

“There’s a lot to watch ahead regarding — and to really emphasize — the importance of diversification of the vaccine,” she said. “We are serving a global population with many different reasons why people are vulnerable to COVID-19.”

Correction: November 7, 2020

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the School of Public Health tool will suggest a fair distribution for a vaccine. In fact, the tool will suggest an equitable distribution.

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Harvard Medical SchoolSchool of Public HealthCoronavirus