Carnegie Mellon University
May 20, 2015

Small Changes, Big Savings

vaccine vials

Changing the size of vaccine vials can significantly decrease the cost of vaccine distribution, helping to leverage limited funding in low-income nations and the entire world, according to a new study.

In a computer model of the vaccine supply chain of the West African nation of Benin, vial size decisions had far-reaching and reverberating effects throughout the vaccine supply chain. The study highlights the importance of careful decision-making in designing and implementing immunization systems, said study lead author Leila Haidari (S'09).

"Computational modeling can play a critical role in assessing new technologies and alternative products," Haidari said. "Vaccine supply chains are complex, dynamic systems that can make great use of modeling to inform policy decisions."

As a graduate from CMU's Biological Sciences and Psychology departments, Haidari said working on multidisciplinary projects with students from a wide range of backgrounds and fields of study prepared her well for her role at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), where she serves as the HERMES team coordinator and public health applications manager.

"I work with software developers, public health professionals, governments and other stakeholders to model health systems and develop tools to empower decision makers around the world," she said.

HERMES is a software platform that allows users to generate a detailed discrete event simulation model of any health supply chain. This simulation model can serve as a "virtual laboratory" for decision makers to address a variety of questions.

Results from the simulation suggest that primary container choice also affects critical indicators of immunization system efficiency and costs. For example, increasing vial size reduced total costs by as much as 25 cents per dose — a significant impact considering that millions of doses of vaccines are administered globally each year.

The work was conducted by researchers at the PSC, a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"Other industries, such as the soda industry, have recognized the importance of the design of containers, bottles, cans, etc.," said Bruce Lee, the HERMES team scientific lead, director of operations research and associate professor at the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Historically, however, not as much attention has been focused on the vials that contain vaccines."