Computer model can boost child vaccination rates while cutting costs

Computational modeling and simulation software developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Johns Hopkins University has helped the Republic of Benin in West Africa deliver more vaccines to children most in need, according to a new study.

The research, published in the journal Vaccine, shows that the team's HERMES model has helped the country enact some initial changes in its vaccine delivery system, including adding the rotavirus vaccine to the nation's supply chain. In low-income nations like Benin, rotavirus is a major cause of infant mortality. The software model may lead to further changes in the country's supply chain.

"These are major policy decisions that could affect millions of lives," said the study's first author Dr. Bruce Lee, director of operations research at the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a statement. "Our team's goal has been to develop state-of-the art computational technology to help such decision-making around the world."

The team used its HERMES tool--short for Highly Extensible Resource for Modeling Supply-chains--to evaluate different options for redesigning Benin's current vaccine system being considered by the country's Ministry of Health. These included consolidating Benin's system of 80 "commune-level" supply depots to a system of 34 "health-zone" depots; eliminating the commune level entirely; splitting the seven current high-level "department" and "regional" stores into 12 new departments; or maintaining the current system. The investigators also looked at how changing transportation routes would affect vaccine delivery.

HERMES, which generates a detailed event simulation model of any vaccine supply chain, favored the health zone approach along with changing transportation routes, which could save between $50,000 and $70,000 in initial expenses and $50,000 to $90,000 in annual costs compared with the other options. This system would reach 99% to 100% of children: an estimated costs savings of more than $500,000 while improving vaccination rates and delivering the rotavirus vaccine.

The software developers believe that HERMES can serve as a "virtual laboratory" for policymakers, health officials, funders, investors, vaccine manufacturers and distributors to help solve supply issues.

- read the press release
- see the study abstract