Lauren Franzel says we're in a time of unprecedented demand for vaccines.
How do we know there will be enough vaccine?
Once a country's health officials decide to add a promising new vaccine to their immunization program, another crucial question arises: will there be enough vaccine for every child?
As more vaccines—and more funding for vaccine introduction—become available, demand for these lifesaving tools is growing. With dozens of developing countries clamoring to roll out a range of vaccines, “meticulous coordination is essential,” says Lauren Franzel, a forecasting manager at PATH.
Lauren plays a unique role in the global effort to accelerate access to vaccines. As a forecasting manager, she and her team analyze the demand for vaccines and their available supply, looking out over the next two decades.
Sizing up the market
We’re at a unique period of time for the vaccine market. There are a lot of vaccine technologies out there that countries can benefit from, and there’s unprecedented demand. My team sizes the vaccine market so that donors understand how much is needed in terms of financial resources. We also inform industry partners what is needed in terms of supplies to ensure a sustainable market.
It’s a delicate balance allocating vaccines when there’s not enough supply to go around. There are so many dynamic pieces to the puzzle. We’ve come up with very transparent and documented processes to help with these decisions. Working closely with our global partners, we look at things like a country’s burden of disease or available infrastructure while trying to respect a country’s preferences. We also pay close attention to what manufacturers have in the clinical pipeline and project when other vaccines will be ready.
Unplug the bottlenecks
Lauren illustrates how forecasting the need for vaccines can help keep the supply moving:
Our team is in a unique position where we can see what the bottlenecks in supply are going to be and identify any potential problems. One of the most common bottlenecks is the cold chain, that is, the system that keeps vaccines at the proper temperature all the way to the most distant health center, which can be challenging in low-resource settings. By forecasting a country’s needs for vaccines, we are able to signal when expansion of the cold chain is required well in advance of shipping the vaccine. At the same time, other PATH teams are working on creating better cold chain systems so vaccines can get where they are needed quickly and safely, and developing ways of stabilizing vaccines so that one day refrigeration will no longer be necessary.
Forecasting, says Lauren, also shows the big picture—the future health impact of a vaccine:
The model we use to forecast demand can also determine the health impact, that is, how many children or individuals can be fully immunized and, from there, how many future cases of a disease will be averted. For example, if we can immunize 100,000 kids against rotavirus disease, we can project how many future deaths from rotavirus will be averted.
I find this work very rewarding. In one breath we can be looking at a long-term horizon and, in the next breath, we can be focusing on, say, is there sufficient supply for countries to introduce pneumococcal conjugate vaccines next year? We get to see the big picture translate into actual children being immunized. At the end of the day, that’s what the work is all about—shortening the time between when vaccines are available in America and Europe and when they reach the rest of the world.