Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Covid-19 Vaccine Cold Chain

On September 18, 2020 my article, "Keeping coronavirus vaccines at subzero temperatures during distribution will be hard, but likely key to ending pandemic," was published in The Conversation. I believed that it was imperative (and my Editors at The Conversation agreed) to start speaking to a broad audience on the necessity and importance of the cold chain to the effective distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines that are presently under development by major pharmaceutical firms.  There was much discussion and coverage in the press about the manufacturing aspects of the different vaccines as well as the R&D involved. However, there was very little being discussed about the distribution issues.  It was imperative to me  that emphasis (and associated challenges) on getting the approved vaccines ultimately from point A (manufacturing) to point B (point of administering of the vaccine), with the quality preserved in the transportation and distribution process, be brought to everyone's attention.

I have conducted research on perishable product supply chains from food to pharmaceuticals and even co-authored a book on the topic.

There are now 4 major Covid-19 vaccines that are far along in the trial phases and this is quite promising, with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines requiring storage below freezing (Pfizer's to the extreme temp of -94 F) with those of Astrazeneca's and John & Johnson's needing to be in the range of 2-8 degrees C, which is standard for many vaccines. 

I have published multiple articles in The Conversation, but this one generated the greatest number of comments and even emails to me from around the globe, which continue. Clearly, the article that I wrote had touched on a very important issue, and I am also grateful that the article got reprinted in multiple media outlets.

Since the publication of my article, much has happened, and the momentum keeps on growing.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by David Williams and John Driscoll for their Care Talk podcast, the link to which is below. 


Lori Hinnant, who is an Associated Press journalist, based in Paris, subsequently interviewed me for a fabulous article, "Vaccine storage issues could leave 3B without access."  My colleague at the Carey School of Business at Johns Hopkins, Tinglong Dai, was also interviewed for this article, which has been reprinted internationally in numerous outlets and also published in The Washington Post and ABCNews.

I have had additional interviews with journalists at The Wall Street Journal and am quoted in the article, "Covid-19 vaccines to be stored secretly under tight security," by Jared S. Hopkins on the security of the distribution of the vaccine. There is a slightly modified title in the hard copy version - a colleague kindly delivered his copy to my door!

I've done research with collaborators on freight security of highly value cargo and clearly the Covid-19 vaccines fall into this category!

And, on November 6, I will be featured on the NPR show The Pulse, based on an interview on the vaccine cold chain conducted by Alan Yu.

One of the goals of my Conversation article was to make the cold chain distribution issues more visible in order that appropriate preparedness measures would be taken, both nationally and globally, so that, once vaccines are approved, time is not wasted and the vaccines do not go to waste as well.

Many thanks to all those who have responded, including the amazing journalists, who continue to keep this important topic in the news!

And, just before publishing this blogpost, I received another inquiry from a journalist requesting an interview because of my article in The Conversation!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Thanks to the USC Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society!

This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of being the first speaker in the virtual seminar series organized by the University of Southern California's Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society (CAIS).  The title of my presentation was, "Game Theory Network Models for Disaster Relief," and my host was Professor Phebe Vayanos!

The talk was well advertised and it was a pleasure and delight to have participants viewing my presentation even from Mexico and India! It was very thoughtful for CAIS to open up the virtual seminar to the public. Terrific that also students and colleagues from UMass Amherst could view it.

The organizers of this series have posted the video recording on youtube, so that additional folks that are interested can see it:

And, luckily, we managed to conduct this event when we did, since two hours afterwards, we lost electric power due to a fierce windstorm that struck Massachusetts. We were without electric power and, hence, without Wi Fi, for 30 hours, signifying further the importance of research and practice surrounding all phases of disaster management, from preparedness and mitigation to response and recovery. Some of our neighbors are still without power and a neighbor was trapped in his car for 4 hours with trees and downed power lines in front and behind his vehicle. And, yesterday morning, we saw the Town of Amherst crew taking down with great skill an ailing tree so that it, too, would not fall and disrupt electricity and communications!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Very Excited About My Upcoming Speaking Engagements

The new academic year is off to a great start. It is the third week of the new academic year at UMass Amherst and I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I am enjoying teaching remotely.  I think that the engagement with students, with the right technology, enthusiasm, and energy, is making for a very rewarding educational experience. 

The beginning of the academic year also tends to be the time for the start of different speaker series and  a renewed conference season (post the summer). Such events are all now taking place remotely. The time to prepare a good talk has perhaps grown since the delivery is very often through Zoom, and one has to be cognizant of that.

In less than a month, I will be giving three invited presentations, each on a different theme/topic.

In late September, I'll have two presentations. The first presentation is an invited one for the INFORMS Chicago Analytics Conference,  and my talk will take place on September 25. This conference is being organized by the INFORMS Chicago Chapter and the INFORMS Analytics Society. The title of this presentation is, "Novel Supply Chain Network Models Inspired by the Covid-19 Pandemic: From Optimization to Game Theory."

I very much like the theme of this conference, which is Analytics to the Rescue! Joining me as invited speakers are fabulous colleagues of mine in the profession. I 'm sure that the Q&A will be stimulating and enlightening after my talk and the discussions wonderful, although virtual, throughout this conference.

The following Monday, on September 28, 2020, I will be speaking on, "Optimization of Food Supply Chain Networks: Why Quality, Trade Instruments, and Labor All Matter."  The venue for this presentation is something extra special - it is the Amazon Consumer Science Summit! I am one of six invited speakers and am truly honored to be presenting at this summit, which takes place September 28-October 1, 2020. My host is Dr. Mauricio G.C. Resende. I had been invited to speak at the Amazon Research Scientist Summit in August 2018, but with the wildfires in the area at that time and the bad smoke conditions, I sent my presentation in lieu of travel.

My presentation at the Amazon Summit will be panoramic in scope and will include some very recent research, inspired by the pandemic, on food supply chains and disruptions, as well as research done with my former PhD student, now Dr. Deniz Besik, who is in her first year as an Assistant Professor at the University of Richmond.  We wrote 6 papers together (thus far), some with other co-authors, including Professors June Dong, Dong Li, and Ladimer S. Nagurney. All six of the papers have been published. Deniz's successful PhD defense took place on March 6, 2020, only a few days before WHO declared the Covid-19 pandemic.  The research that we did on tariffs, quotas, and tariff-rate quotas is very relevant in the pandemic. 

And, on October 7, 2020, I will be speaking on "Game Theory Network Models for Disaster Relief," at the USC Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society." Information on that presentation is available on this website. We have continued our research on game theory in the pandemic and I now have a PhD student, Mojtaba Salarpour, focusing on this topic. His most recent published paper is, "A Stochastic Disaster Relief Game Theory Network Model," which we co-authored with Professors June Dong and Ladimer S. Nagurney. It was published in SN Operations Research Forum (2020) and is available on the journal's website in its entirety. We also have an article now, in press, entitled, "Competition for Medical Supplies Under Stochastic Demand in the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Generalized Nash Equilibrium Framework," which we co-authored with Professors Dong and Pritha Dutta.  I am very excited about also giving this presentation and my hosts at USC have reached out to me to see whether I would also like to meet with students virtually and I, enthusiastically, agreed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Our Novel Supply Chain Research Inspired by the Covid-19 Pandemic

It is often said that challenges bring new opportunities and that has never been clearer than in the historic Covid-19 pandemic that we are all experiencing in 2020.

With the World Health Organization officially declaring the pandemic on March 11, 2020, our lives and economies have been transformed. Of specific concern has been the viability of various product supply chains from food to PPEs (personal protective equipment) due to a spectrum disruptions.

As a researcher, who focuses on network systems, including supply chain networks, and with collaborators around the globe, it became apparent even earlier in 2020 that we would be faced with a healthcare disaster of an epic scale. And, unlike other types of disasters, from earthquakes to hurricanes and tsunamis, this is a disaster not limited in time or geography. On March 12, 2020, I published an article in The Conversation: How coronavirus is upsetting the blood supply chain, which is my most read article on this site and has been reprinted multiple times. It emphasizes how important safety and labor are and also presages the possible use of convalescent plasma, which has been used in numerous patients suffering from Covid-19, although fully randomized clinical trials are still ongoing. And, with Dr. Pritha Dutta of Pace University, we have published several papers on blood supply chains and also completed the paper, "A Multiclass, Multiproduct Covid-19 Convalescent Plasma Donor Equilibrium Model." This Conversation article was cited on the first page of a major memo that I am honored and humbled has actually influenced policy.

Getting back to the labor issue - this has been something that I have been obsessing about for a few years and, perhaps fueled by adrenaline, along with the need, the modeling aspects fell into place. My first paper integrating labor into supply chain networks, which enables the quantification of disruptions in the form of labor shortages, which has been a big and very painful issue in a variety of food supply chain networks, ranging from fresh produce (illnesses among migrant workers) to meat processing plants (numerous cases of Covid-19), has now been accepted for publication. The paper, "Perishable Food Supply Chain Networks with Labor in the Covid-19 Pandemic,"   will appear in Dynamics of Disasters - Impact, Risk, Resilience, and Solutions, Springer International Publishing Switzerland. This volume is nearing completion and is the third in a series that I have co-edited with Ilias S. Kotsireas and Panos M. Pardalos.

Related subsequent work has addressed labor in healthcare supply chains, including PPEs, using system optimization, followed by a game theory framework. Shortages of medical supplies in the pandemic and competition for such critical supplies was the topic of another recent article of mine, also published in The Conversation: The raging competition for medical supplies is not a game, but game theory can help. This article highlights the paper, "Competition for Medical Supplies Under Stochastic Demand in the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Generalized Nash Equilibrium Framework," that I wrote with Mojtaba Salarpour, a PhD student of mine, and Professor June Dong of SUNY Oswego as well as Professor Pritha Dutta of Pace University. The paper has been accepted for publication in: Nonlinear Analysis and Global Optimization, Themistocles M. Rassias, and Panos M. Pardalos, Editors, Springer Nature Switzerland AG.

We have also been conducting research on stochastic multistage game theory supply chain network models for disaster relief. The first such paper of ours, "A Stochastic Disaster Relief Game Theory Network Model," co-authored with Mojtaba Salarpour and Professor June Dong and Professor Ladimer S. Nagurney of the University of Hartford, appeared in the new journal: SN Operations Research Forum. We are continuing our research on such topics, with the goal of extending both methodology and applications.

And, with collaborators in Italy, specifically, Professor Patrizia Daniele, we continue to work on problems related to human migration, which also is a big topic being covered in the news media during this very painful pandemic. One of our migration network papers, "Human Migration Networks and Policy Interventions: Bringing Population Distributions in Line with System-Optimization,"  appears in the January 2021 issue of the International Transactions in Operational Research. Hoping that there will be vaccines available to all then as well as effective medical treatments for Covid-19.

And for those of you who have the time and inclination, please, feel free to view my INFORMS Practice webinar: Blood, Sweat, & PPEs: Rescuing Perishable Product Supply Chains & Impacting Policy Through Analytics.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Our Recent Research on Human Migration Networks, Climate Change, and Covid-19

The New York Times yesterday published an article, "The Great Climate Migration,"  which stated: As with much modeling work, the point here is not to provide concrete numerical predictions so much as it is to provide glimpses into possible futures. Human movement is notoriously hard to model.

I have been working on the modeling for human migration networks for over 20 years and, in the past year, with collaborators, I have returned to this important topic. Our research was motivated by real-world events. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, by the end of 2019 the number of people forcibly displaced due to war, conflict, persecution, human rights violations, poverty and economic inequality but also climate change and natural disasters, had grown to 79.5 million. Furthermore, the vulnerability of millions of international migrants may be exacerbated in crisis situations, as actually is the case now with the COVID-19, and, of course, by climate change.

In addition,  migration interactions will be the key to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the member states of the United Nations. In the 2030 Agenda, 9 out of the 17 goals contain targets and indicators that are related to migration or mobility.

In the series of papers, we first set out to include the impacts of regulations on migratory flows and utilities, and took the perspective of migrants behaving in a user-optimizing manner, that is, choosing their locations, subject to the differential between the destination location utility and that in the origin location minus the migration cost. This led us to publishing the paper, "International human migration networks under regulations,"  in the European Journal of Operational Research:

This paper we then extended to include multiple paths between origin and destination nodes, with each path possibly consisting of multiple links. The paper, "Refugee migration networks and regulations: A multiclass, multipath variational inequality framework," was published in the Journal of Global Optimization:

We also introduced, for the first time, a system-optimized perspective for human migration, in which a central authority allocates migrants to locations in a way that is optimal from a societal perspective. In the paper, published in the International Transactions in Operational Research (ITOR):  "Human migration networks and policy interventions: Bringing population distributions in line with system optimization," we demonstrated how, through policy interventions, in the form of subsidies, a governmental body could ensure that, once imposed the migratory flows (and associated population distributions) would generate a system optimum, although migrants were behaving in a user-optimizing manner.  Those of you well-versed in transportation science can see the analogues.

Subsequently, we included capacities associated with the population locations of the multiclass migrants in the paper, "Capacitated human migration networks and subsidization." The paper has been accepted in the volume:  Dynamics of Disasters - Impact, Risk, Resilience, and Solutions, I.S. Kotsireas, A. Nagurney, and P.M. Pardalos, Editors, Springer International Publishing Switzerland, 2020. This paper shows that the results for the  policy interventions in ITOR also hold in the capacitated case.

And, in our most recent paper on human migration, "A system-optimization model for multiclass human migration with migration costs and regulations in the Covid-19 pandemic," also co-authored with Professor Patrizia Daniele of the University of Catania in Italy and her PhD student, Giorgia Cappello, we proposed novel utility functions associated with origin an destination nodes and also considered regulations as in the above work. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically  affected global mobility in the form of blockages, restrictions, and travel disruptions, as risk mitigation measures are being implemented by numerous countries. Indeed, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that between 11 March 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and 20 April 2020, the total number of movement restrictions implemented around the world has increased to more than 48,000! This paper is now under review in a special issues of a journal.

People since time immemorial have sought to identify better locations for themselves and their families. As The New York Times also noted,  our model offers something far more potentially valuable to policymakers: a detailed look at the staggering human suffering that will be inflicted if countries shut their doors.

Research on human migration networks will continue.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Postscript on My INFORMS Webinar: Blood, Sweat, and PPEs: Rescuing Perishable Product Supply Chains and Impacting Policy Through Analytics

First, I would like to thank the INFORMS Practice Section for the invitation to deliver the inaugural webinar in its Analytics Series, which took place last Friday. The title of my webinar was: "Blood, Sweat, and PPEs: Rescuing Perishable Product Supply Chains and Impacting Policy Through Analytics." 

As noted on the INFORMS Section's webpage: the goal of the webinar series is to bring awareness of the value of applying analytics to real-world problems. The series is organized by Dr. Patricia Neri of Bayer Crop Science and Dr. Carrie Beam of the University of Arkansas.

Also, special thanks to all those who were able to join in. I was thrilled to hear from colleagues in many different countries, who were able to Zoom in.

This blogpost is a postscript on the webinar with links to my presentation and to the full webinar, which is now on youtube, and answers to questions in the Q&A.

That morning began with getting ready for the virtual event.

The logistics of the webinar, which was carried out via Zoom, was handled by Beth West and Mary Leszczynski of INFORMS and it was exciting to have it be open to the public and to have the registration be free. 

We had had multiple practice sessions, since there were slides to be included prior to my presentation about the series as well as slides afterwards, providing a link to this blog and noting that the webinar would also be posted on youtube.

Dr. Neri gave a lovely introduction to my presentation.
In the webinar, I spoke about a variety of perishable product supply chains impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, including: food, PPE, and blood supply chains, and also provided some hope based on convalescent plasma as a treatment, under the reality of competition.  I discussed both earlier relevant research as well as research that we have conducted on supply chain disruptions and resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic. And, I also spoke about the impact of analytics during the Covid-19 pandemic on policy, including our work on blood supply chains. I emphasized the importance of the work being done by our Operations Research and Analytics community and also highlighted inspiring younger generations.

The webinar is now also online, thanks to INFORMS. 

Dr. Carrie Beam expertly handled the Q&A.

And, as promised, since we did not get a chance to address all the questions, below I provide a list of questions, followed by my response. For completeness, I also include the questions that were "live."

Question from Don Mustard of Canada: Covid has exposed a global supply chain that was not prepared for a global pandemic. What is the role of government in reinforcing supply chains' structure against disaster, ensuring that disruption is minimized?

My answer: This is an excellent question. I believe that national governments must be involved in disaster mitigation and preparedness and clearly this pandemic is a healthcare disaster. First and foremost, the government must ensure that we are prepared for a worst case scenario, as we are are experiencing now. This is an extreme disaster given the impact and prevalence over space and time (unlike an earthquake, flood, tsunami, etc.).  Many of the supply chains that have been most severely disrupted now are being referred to as "critical infrastructure" and the associated workers are truly essential ones. The government should guarantee that we have adequate stockpiles of  PPEs and medical supplies as well as the capacity to produce them, including vaccines. Investing in food supply chains is also warranted. As I discussed in my presentation, labor in many industries, including food processing, has suffered in the pandemic, resulting in product shortages. Having healthcare for workers will keep everyone safer and make our supply chains more resilient.

Question from Dr. Angelika Leskovskaya of Southern Methodist University: Will it be possible to send slides and probably recording after the webinar?

My answer: The links to the slide and the recording of the webinar are given above. I will check with INFORMS about further broadcasting of the information. Thank you.

Question from Don Mustard of Canada: Perhaps could you discuss your thoughts on the concept that Covid didn't create problems in the supply chain, but rather, just exposed them... and what your confidence that we will learn from this (vs. revert to our historical patterns of behavior).

My answer: Clearly, the pandemic dramatically illustrated to everyone not only the importance of supply chains but also the need for flexibility, agility, and having multiple suppliers, among many other important characteristics. At the same time, the necessity of closing many businesses,  incorporating social distancing measures in production and processing facilities, dealing with employee illnesses and fears of contagion, modifying freight service provision, etc., put many additional stressors on the supply chains. I do believe that Operations Research and Analytics will be utilized and valued more by many organizations as a result of the pandemic because our tools are extremely useful and can identify vulnerabilities (as well as synergies) in supply chain networks. We (firms, organizations, governments) cannot turn our backs on the lessons learned.

Question from Dr. Duncan Klett, Cofounder of Kinaxis: It seems logical that national stockpiles should be filled to close to necessary levels, then supplies would flow through the stockpile so the oldest get sent out to hospitals for immediate use, keeping the stockpile "current."

My answer: Yes, one would think that that would be and should be the case. I believe that some were surprised that masks actually can, in effect, perish over time because their quality deteriorates. This should have been addressed and mitigated way before the pandemic hit us.  

Question from Dr. Amir Masoumi of Manhattan College: Once the volume of blood donations and transfusions across the US are back to "normal", in which direction do you see the blood banking industry moving with respect to balancing the supply and demand for blood products?

My answer: I believe that there will have to be more cooperation, rather than competition among blood service organizations. That was actually one of the themes in a paper co-authored with you and with Dr. Min Yu that I mentioned in my webinar presentation. Also, with the demand for convalescent plasma, obtained through apheresis of blood donations, as I had discussed in my presentation, which is emerging as a possible treatment for Covid-19, there is now some added hope for hospitalized patients battling this disease. There is competition now for the valuable convalescent plasma but, ultimately, there should be system optimization and allocation accordingly.

Question from Rishabh Bhandawat, PhD Candidate at the University of Buffalo: Would centralized inventory with some sort of sharing mechanism have helped with Covid? 

Answer: I think that definitely, yes, especially in the case of the National Stockpile of PPEs and medical supplies. However, as I had mentioned in the webinar, there were not sufficient amounts plus there was deterioration in the quality (hence, perishability) of many items, which exacerbated the shortages. We need a sufficient centralized inventory and management of the critical needs supplies along with a fair distribution to points of demand.

Question from Dr. Robin Lougee of IBM: Does Anna want to talk about the role of blockchain?

Answer: Time did not permit a discussion on blockchain.  However, how blockchain can influence supply chains in the pandemic would be an excellent topic for a future webinar. Thanks.

Question from Dr. Robin Lougee of IBM: What's the NEXT presentation in the series?

Answer: The next webinar will take place on July 10, 2020 and is entitled, "Inventory, Packages, Price Points and People: An Inside Look at leading Technical People." The webinar will consist of panelists who will address: "How do the best geeks in the industry motivate and manage their technical teams. The panelists will be: Dr. Pooja Dewan of Otis Elevator, Dr. Anne Robinson of Kinaxis, Dr. Mallory Freeman of UPS, and Dr. Pallav Chhaochhria of Citi.

Many thanks for all the great questions! During the Q&A there were also comments sent by Marino Biagini and by Teja Krasek (from Slovenia), which were very much appreciated.

There was a glitch at the beginning of the webinar, which was quickly corrected, by the projector unmuting the computer. The Chat facility was disabled by the INFORMS folks due to prior issues for security reasons. 

Being "first" in anything is always risky, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. And with technology and the Internet there is always the possibility of a disruption.

I like forward to further discussions and important contributions from our community during these challenging times and when the pandemic is past us.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

My Upcoming INFORMS Webinar: Blood, Sweat, and PPEs

The invitation came from Dr. Patricia Neri, who serves on the Board of the Practice Section of INFORMS. Would I be interested in giving the inaugural webinar in their Practice Series? Very quickly I agreed. There was specific interest in having me speak on perishable product supply chains in the Covid-19 pandemic. I have had multiple interviews in the media on this topic (radio, TV, and print) and it was an opportune venue in which to synthesize thoughts as well as earlier and recent research on supply chains and disruptions.

I have been working on the presentation slides for my webinar, which is entitled, "Blood, Sweat, and PPEs: Rescuing Perishable Product Supply Chains and Impacting Policy Through Analytics." The webinar will take place on June 12, 2020, with Q&A to follow. The webinar is open to the public and information on registration is available here. Joining me on the Q&A panel will be Dr. Patricia Neri and Dr. Carrie Beam (I thoroughly enjoyed brainstorming with both recently on the title!). Special thanks also to Beth West of INFORMS for handing the logistics for my webinar.
The World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 global epidemics an official pandemic on March 11, 2020, and, even before then, I was hard at work conducting research on disruptions to supply chains because of the coronavirus. On March 12, 2020, my article on the stressed blood supply chain and the coronavirus was published in The Conversation. To this date, the article remains the most read article by a UMass Amherst faculty member, published in the outlet over the past year. It was followed by an invited piece in the INFORMS Analytics Coronavirus Chronicles.

Perishable product supply chains, including a variety of food ones, PPEs (which are time-sensitive), a well as blood supply chains, are some of the supply chain networks that have been most severely impacted in the pandemic. In this webinar, I will discuss our earlier work and present research on such topics and, for the latter, I will emphasize new work that includes the inclusion of labor under different constraints in supply chains. I will also highlight a recent paper on convalescent plasma that I wrote with Dr. Pritha Dutta on what has become a unique market consisting of competition among nonprofits and profit organizations for plasma from Covid-19 survivors for therapies in those suffering from the coronavirus. Finally, I will describe how work in operations research and analytics is influencing policy on a national level in a significant way.

And, since several of you have asked, below, I have highlighted some of the recent media interviews that I have taken part in, which are accessible on the links below. Many thanks for the interest! Hope that you can join me for the webinar.

Interview by UMass Amherst

Article on the Isenberg School Website on Impact on Policy

NBC Boston TV News Interview on Meat Shortages

Radio Interview on Farm Talk

Diaper and Wipe Shortage Radio Interview - Los Angeles

Interview for The Verge on Algorithms in the Pandemic and Supply Chains

Interview in USA Today on Diaper and Wipe Shortages

Interview in Morning Consult on Collateral Damage in the Pandemic

Also, many thanks to the American Mathematical Society and to Mike Breen for hosting me on the podcast on supply chains and Covid-19.