With Western Virgins getting the COVID-19 vaccine at record prices, citizens attribute the power to medical science to make this shot in the arm possible.
But there is another type of science that has a critical but less recognized role in the introduction of the state vaccine: data science.
For West Virginia University data scientists Brad Price and Katherine Kopp, who teamed up with Dariane Drake in 2019 to found Data Driven WV, big data shaped their careers at the John Chambers College of Business and Economics.
Now it’s helping shape the state in a transformative way as West Virgins count on COVID-19 vaccines to move the mountain state after a pandemic.
Price and Kopp implemented data science to support vaccine supply chain efforts by developing dashboards for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources for populations in West Virginia, including identifying those at risk. This work was developed as an experimental learning project with five MS students in Business Data Analytics.
Most importantly, they built a robust and agile digital inventory management system to keep track of vaccine demand and inventory across the state.
“When we think of vaccines, most people don’t think of data,” said Price, assistant professor of business data analytics at Chambers College. “Before that shot gets in the arm, there has to be a plan to get him where he needs to be in the state. You need to set up the entire supply chain and keep track of where it is, where it is going, and understand how much you have and how much you need to be successful. If we work without this piece, our leaders will be blindfolded when it comes to vaccine distribution. ”
The inventory management system produced by Price and Kopp consists of eight web-based applications that manage demand from various companies, including district clinics, pharmacies, colleges and K-12. You adapt the need to the number of assigned vials.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ship vials weekly, and the data-driven WV team automates the process to recommend how many trays and boxes to each of the state’s five hubs in five counties including Kanawha, Monongalia, Cabell, Berkeley and Greenbrier.
You then determine how many vials from the trays and crates to move to and from each hub to meet demand. There are also checks and balances to determine how many vials have been distributed and how many are still available.
“There are eight applications running at a time, and everyone is talking to each other,” said Kopp. “It’s an incredibly agile system that runs at a low cost. With new vaccines like Johnson & Johnson going online, we can add them to the system and test them in a day.”
It’s quite a jump from where it started. In the beginning it was a manual process with Google Docs and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets that has developed into a complex inventory management system with automation.
When Price and Kopp were called in by the DHHR and the West Virginia National Guard through Maj. Ryan Coss (who also teaches at Chambers College) to help get the vaccine up and running in early 2021, they jumped without hesitation one – and they did it quickly.
“In a normal software development process, what we did in a six-day period would probably take six weeks,” said Kopp. “With the introduction of RStudio, our partners who provided the tool we used to build the application, the use of students to turn it into an experimental learning opportunity, and the partnership with the state, we run into problems quickly solved.”
Price and Kopp are well versed in acting quickly to solve data problems. It’s not the first time the data-driven WV duo has been helping the state through their work with the Joint Interagency Task Force during COVID-19.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, they have supported the PSA supply chain efforts by building a facility-level forecasting model for every hospital in the state. The model takes into account the behavior of the West Virgins and how they migrate to health care in emergency situations. It was used to create a government inventory to make backups for hospitals with low supply needs. Reporting on these efforts will continue. Weekly reports are distributed every Thursday with the help of assistant Ryan Midkiff.
Price, Kopp, and Drake received a Civilian Service Achievement Award from the West Virginia National Guard for their efforts in the summer of 2020.
According to retired Major General (retired) James Hoyer, who in his new role at WVU continues to lead the governor’s Joint Interagency Task Force, the data-driven WV team has played an essential role in shaping the state’s persistence through the pandemic.
“Preparation was critical to keeping our citizens safe during COVID-19, and Data Driven WV was the driving force behind the scenes that made this preparation possible at a very high level,” said Hoyer. “Their ability to use data to predict PSA and track vaccine inventory has enabled the state to be ready and nimble to cope with the unpredictable tides of the pandemic.”