NHS patients in the North East, South West and Yorkshire may find themselves waiting the longest to secure their seasonal flu vaccine — leaving thousands “at risk”. This is the warning of researchers with the supply chain management platform 7bridges, who applied their artificial-intelligence–powered system to identify the areas where demand for the flu vaccine has the potential to outpace supply. More than 30 million flu jabs are expected to be administered across England this year, to both older adults and the clinically vulnerable. Fears of a “twindemic” of coronavirus and flu have led to an extension of the vaccine drive to target all those aged 50–65 — an estimated 11 million adults more than in previous years.
7bridges founder and chief technology officer Matei Beremski said: “The pandemic has given us all a better understanding of the importance and necessity of vaccines in keeping the population healthy.
“With the broadening of the annual flu vaccine scheme to 50-to-65-year-olds — an estimated group of nearly 11 million — it was likely that surges in demand would make already complex pharmaceutical supply chains even more difficult to manage.
“All of the data used by 7bridges to map supply vs demand is publicly available.”
However, he added, “it is not currently being used to optimise the flu vaccine supply chain and minimise delays.”
Mr Beremski continued: “A successful rollout in this case would be parity between the times different regions are waiting for their flu jabs.
“But, by using our AI to map supply and demand, we found that this is simply not the case.
“Our data gives a snapshot of the reality that away from cities, where the average age of residents is usually lower, many coastal and Northern regions are going to feel the impact of bottlenecks in the supply chain.”
In fact, the firm’s analysis has suggested that residents in such coastal areas as Cornwall, Devon and Northumberland could end up waiting up to 33 percent longer for their jabs than their counterparts in large cities like London and Manchester.
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Mr Beremski said “Thankfully, these supply chains are some of the simplest in the pharma industry as flu vaccines arrive already in syringes and only require being refrigerated rather than stored at exceedingly low temperatures.
“The flu vaccines are delivered in batches to surgeries across the UK, and by using AI and plotting robust and real-time maps of where demand is highest, the NHS can ensure they are transforming the way they are on top of complex programmes such as this.
“The last few years have highlighted just how fragile supply chains are, but technology provides the opportunity to drive better outcomes, improve efficiencies.”
Furthermore, Mr Beremski concluded, such technology in this case “could reduce the risk for those who are vulnerable by ensuring they receive their vaccine in the right time frame.”