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ASU software used to help allocate H1N1 vaccine


November 03, 2009

H1N1 is now widespread in all but two states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Arizona health officials are working hard to make sure those who most need the vaccine are able to get it. In the Phoenix area, Maricopa County public health officials are using an innovative new software program from the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University to help them quickly determine where to send vaccine doses as they come into the state.

The CDC sends vaccines to the state, and then they go down to the county level. Officials with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health often have to decide where to send new doses of the vaccine in less than one hour. Instead of having to use a variety of spreadsheets to track everything, the new program puts all of the information into one database so a decision can be filtered as quickly as possible.

"This decision-support system factors in the relevant information, such as vaccine doses, which doctors and hospitals can best utilize the vaccine based on the types of high- or low-risk patient populations they serve, where previous doses have been distributed and where the vaccine dissemination would be most effective. And with the touch of a few buttons, it maps out the suggested vaccine distribution to best manage the outbreak," said Ajay Vinze, professor of information systems at the W. P. Carey School of Business and a Fulbright Senior Specialist, who helped design the new software. "While the system's suggestions account for a number of issues, both strategic and tactical, the final decision and ability to make needed adjustments are still left to the public health professionals and their expertise."

There are several types of vaccine doses coming in, only some of which are appropriate for children, some for pregnant women, etc. The new software takes this into consideration as well.

"Now, public health officials can focus on the key decisions, while allowing this decision-support tool to make the needed optimizations," said W. P. Carey School of Business associate professor Raghu Santanam, another of the software's creators. "We have even included details, such as vaccine orders from different doctors across the Valley and then communications back from them about how much more vaccine they need or how much they might still have stored for others to use."

Associate professor Benjamin Shao and W. P. Carey School doctoral students Trent Spaulding and Aaron Baird also helped to design the new software. They took into account the real-time pressure of making tough decisions.

"We examined the overall objectives and created a fast-working system that would help health officials maximize the vaccine's impact on the public," said Spaulding. "This is a very complicated public health problem, so we tried to look at it from an efficient business perspective."