AI and COVID-19: Technology’s Role in Vaccine Development, Transportation, and Adherence

Altogether AI
Sam Ransbotham
Professor at Boston College; AI Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review; Host of “Me, Myself, and AI” podcast 
January 18, 2022

What good is a vaccine if companies can’t deliver it safely?

In our latest “ Me, Myself, and AI” podcast, Shervin and I spoke with Ranjeet Banerjee of Cold Chain Technologies (CCT) about “ AI in the Supply Chain.” CCT transports drugs, biologics, and vaccines over long distances and complicated routes. 

Cold Chain Technologies not only needs to deliver products; it must also deliver assurance that it’s met all the necessary safety and efficacy conditions for those products throughout the supply chain. 

As the company’s name implies, temperature is frequently a critical concern. With the c urrent supply chain turmoil, it is particularly tough.

As is often the case when I talk with someone working in a field that I don’t know much about, I found the problem much more complicated than I initially realized. 

The transportation of drugs, biologics, and vaccines involves all the normal supply chain complexities but adds in a host of other concerns like environmental and security considerations. CCT is using AI to help reduce those complexities. 

As products move through their transportation network, it’s using AI to constantly update the likelihood of delivering the products while still safe and effective. 

I like how the company uses this information to create options.

In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, if unavoidable delays indicate that the product may not get to the original destination within tolerances, CCT can reroute the shipment elsewhere. 

There are still plenty of places that could use the vaccine; backup destinations could get effective vaccines than risk continuing towards the original destination.

AI has been a big part of the story of the efforts against COVID-19. Ranjeet and CCT give an example of just one part of this story. We’ve seen other examples throughout the process.

  • AI in Drug Discovery
  • AI in Drug Development
  • AI in Drug Production
  • AI in Drug Adoption:

AI in Drug Discovery:

The “AI Nation” podcast had an interesting episode on “ The Next Pandemic.” 

Hosts Ed Felten, Robert E. Kahn Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton University, and Malcom Burnley describe how people have used AI tools to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Of particular interest is the protein-folding problem and how scientists used Alphafold (an AI system) to quickly improve solutions for this difficult problem. 

The episode also looks ahead, as the title indicates, to what happens next and how we might use the tools from this pandemic to respond to the next pandemic.

AI in Drug Development:

Our interview with Dave Johnson (“ AI and the COVID-19 Vaccine”) described how Moderna used artificial intelligence to speed up the development of the vaccine and how the technology has helped to automate other key systems and processes to build efficiencies across the organization. 

Dave also describes Moderna’s digital-first culture and offers insights around collaboration that apply to other industries.

AI in Drug Production:

The “Off Script” pharma-oriented podcasts offers more details about how the industry uses AI to produce pharmaceuticals in general. 

The episode, “ Solution Spotlight: Elevating Quality Inspection With AI,” focuses on the roles of AI in drug quality. 

Hosts Karen Langhauser and Giacomo Girotto of the Stevanato Group discuss, for example, how organizations can use AI for the visual inspection of equipment.

AI in Drug Adoption:

Of course, all this is for naught unless people actually want the vaccines that this process delivers. 

One way that involves AI is “ Combating vaccine hesitancy through artificial intelligence.” 

Although I’m pretty skeptical of chatbots in general, this article describes some successes in using AI-based chatbots to understand the user’s viewpoints and provide instant tailor-made answers that build trust in COVID-19 vaccines.

What’s Next for AI in Pharma?

Despite these successes, they still feel piecemeal to me — individual companies or specific areas within those companies. 

I don’t want to discount the benefits so far. They are impressive. But could we work together to gain more? 

I can’t help but think that much may be missing in the interfaces between companies and systems. 

A more holistic approach, crossing organizational boundaries, can likely help and may be the next area for attention as companies gain experience with their internal solutions.

Thanks for reading, and let me know your thoughts.

Originally published at

Names cited;

Ranjeet Banerjee of Cold Chain Technologies

Hosts Ed Felten, Robert E. Kahn Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton University, and Malcom Burnley

Dave Johnson, Moderna

Hosts Karen Langhauser and Giacomo Girotto of the Stevanato Group

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