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Global Obesity Prevention Center

Next Generation Vaccine Supply Chain Software Available

User-friendly supply chain software can help guide decision makers through hands-on approach

Many of the world’s vaccine supply chains are broken and aren’t getting life-saving and life improving vaccines to adults and children who need them, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Vaccine supply chains are complex systems of storage locations, equipment, vehicles and personnel that get vaccines from the Central Store in a country to the population. Designing, planning, managing and fixing such complex systems has been a challenge for many countries, but now researchers from the Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) and International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) at Johns Hopkins University and Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) at Carnegie Mellon University are releasing their HERMES software to help decision makers around the world improve the delivery of vaccines.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, HERMES (Highly Extensible Resource for Modeling Event-Driven Supply Chains) allows the user to create detailed simulation models of vaccine supply chains. The models can serve as a “virtual laboratory” to evaluate a supply chain and test the effects of implementing different potential policies, interventions, practices and technology changes. The user-friendly software can help planners within Health Ministries, vaccine supply chain logisticians, vaccine manufacturers and funders who deal with vaccine supply chains understand and optimize these complex systems.

“Many existing vaccine supply chains designs in low- and middle-income countries were established in the late 1970s and ’80s and have since remained relatively unchanged,” says Bruce Y. Lee, MD, MBA, executive director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) at Johns Hopkins University and HERMES scientific lead. “It is not uncommon to visit a storage facility in a low- or middle-income country and find an overflow of vaccines that never make it to the people who are supposed to receive the vaccines.” 

To date, the HERMES team has used the software to create vaccine supply chain models to help decision makers in a wide range of countries such as Niger, Benin, Senegal, Chad, Kenya, Mozambique, Thailand, Vietnam and India. This has included working with various Ministries of Health and major international organizations such as UNICEF, GAVI, Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), Medicins Sans Fronties (MSF) otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders (MSF), PATH and the World Health Organization (WHO). For example, in 2012, the HERMES team worked with the Agence de Médecine Préventive (AMP) and WHO to help the Benin Ministry of Health determine whether the Benin vaccine supply chain was ready for the rotavirus (most common cause of diarrheal disease among infants and young children) and meningococcal (meningitis) vaccines and if they should simply add more refrigerators and vehicles or significantly redesign their vaccine supply chain. Using HERMES to explore the different options, the team helped the Benin Ministry of health identify a new design that would consolidate storage locations, remove a supply chain level and replace point-to-point motorbike routes with truck shipping loops. This new design could not only increase the number of vaccines successfully delivered and thus save lives, but also save more than $500,000 over the course of 5 years.

In 2015, the GOPC and PSC team used HERMES to help VillageReach simulate the possible value of using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, to transport vaccines in Mozambique. The simulation results showed the potential value of such drones and informed the debate of their possible use in delivering health commodities.

In 2016, the HERMES Team partnered with MSF to model the economic and clinical impacts of heat-stable vaccines in various countries. The study showed that that not only could vaccines that don’t require refrigeration help increase vaccination rates in these countries, the cost savings of decreased cold chain utilization and improved health outcomes could more than cover the costs of heat-stable vaccines at double or triple the price. 

Starting Monday, April 23, in conjunction with World Immunization Week, the HERMES team will make a version of the HERMES software that has a user-friendly interface available to low- and middle-income countries. By making such software technology available in countries short on resources, the hope will be to empower in-country decisions makers to evaluate and improve vaccine delivery.

Further information on how to download and access HERMES software can be found here: hermes.psc.edu/release/current