The world mobilized for an incredible fight following the onset of the global Covid-19 pandemic, and managed to develop safe and effective vaccines in record time. Now that the first vaccines are out, the planet is facing three huge challenges: manufacturing, distribution, and administration.
The artificial intelligence (AI) community is in a unique position to aid in these efforts by developing or repurposing technological innovations that can support human decision making. Gartner has identified four ways that AI can help with Covid-19 vaccination efforts.
AI Can Reduce Uncertainty
There has been no shortage of uncertainty during the pandemic. While AI cannot eliminate uncertainty, it can certainly help to reduce it. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, data scientists leveraged AI to build models of the Covid-19 spread. While the outlook was imprecise at first, with more data, scientists were able to predict the disease spread more accurately.
Now, the same people are swiftly repurposing existing AI solutions to create models for vaccine distribution and administration. This reduces guesswork, for instance, for site-based vaccine needs based on Covid-19 spread and waves. As more data about the effectiveness of vaccines becomes available, these forecasts will improve.
AI Can Perform Repetitive Human Tasks at Scale
Vaccine manufacturing, distribution and administration require a myriad of often tedious tasks. Some of these tasks support business functions, such as order management, patient scheduling and triage. Some are more complex, but still crucial for vaccination success – for example, earning the trust of the population and quickly answering questions. These are typically considered human tasks, but AI can help with many of them.
“Unlike humans, AI has the benefit of being able to work 24/7,” said Svetlana Sicular, research vice president at Gartner. “AI does not get tired, and more importantly, it does not get frustrated, which are critical benefits when working with a problem at such a massive scale and complexity.”
For example, chatbots and AI-enabled contact centers can answer questions about the vaccine, its side effects, timing, and costs, and can do so in many languages. Or image recognition can be used to support medical imaging analysis, diagnostics and patient triage for conditions related to the vaccine and to the virus.
AI Can Help Determine Who Receives the Vaccine
Determining what population to vaccinate and in what order are extremely challenging questions, which can only be answered by humans. However, AI can play a role.
AI optimizes decision support by considering the complex interplay of vaccination goals, supplies, demographics, economics and more. In the immediate term, AI can help in solving two major problems: (i) ensuring efficiency and fairness in vaccinating those who are interested; and (ii) identifying and contacting those who won’t engage because they are uniformed, hesitant or have some reason to forgo the vaccination.
“It’s important to remember that the challenges of vaccine distribution are enormously complicated, especially given the limited and fragmented data currently available. AI can help answer questions and sort through data, but it cannot and should not design equitable vaccine distribution,” said Ms. Sicular.
AI Can Help Manage Supply Chain Challenges
Supply chain is at the core of all three main vaccination tasks – manufacturing, distribution, and administration. Some AI capabilities for supply chain are already common, well-understood and tested. The question now is how to quickly implement those same approaches, save resources and maximize the speed of vaccination.
A few examples of existing AI solutions that can help solve these challenges include supply chain network mapping and visualization, holistic inventory visibility and forecasting of all kinds.
However, many necessary AI capabilities are new to the supply chain, due to the conditions introduced by the pandemic and because of the mere scale of tasks. Still, they enable those managing vaccine supply chains to:
● Determine state/regional/ location/site-based vaccine needs based on Covid-19 spread and waves
● Dynamically manage supply chain for drugs, hospital equipment, and non-drug materials depending on the state of vaccination
● Monitor temperature controls and shelf life of the vaccine
“In each of the challenges presented by Covid-19 vaccination, the best way to think of AI is that it can help make people more confident and organizations more productive,” said Ms. Sicular. “AI should be employed to compensate for human limitations, not to replace humans. Find where machines do their best and where people can be at their best – and allow both sides to shine in the fight against Covid-19.”
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