Today marks day 337 of lockdown in South Africa. That’s 337 days of uncertainty, challenges and turmoil for many. But since vaccinations have begun to roll out in parts of the world, things are beginning to look up. Artificial intelligence has played a significant role in managing the pandemic, from analysing and uncovering patterns and pinpointing Covid-19 hotspots to accelerating the process of diagnosing infections. Let’s have a look at the pivotal role AI will continue to play in ultimately beating this modern pandemic as we commence with vaccination distribution and face coronavirus mutations.
AI has been used since the beginning of the pandemic to track the spread of the virus and identify hotspots, but now it’s also being used to track vaccine rollouts and manage complex supply chains that would normally pose a logistical nightmare. The UK was the first western nation to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine and, with a population of close to 68 million, tracking rollouts proved to be no small feat. Last year, the UK Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) partnered with the UK unit of Genpact to tackle this challenge. Using AI software, Genpact has made it possible for the MHRA to track the location of each dose and who receives it, and to keep track of adverse side effect reports – a critical element to ensuring overall public health.
Eric Sandor, the pharmacovigilance artificial intelligence lead at Genpact, believes that AI integrated tracking solutions are essential for vaccine rollouts at mass scale, without sacrificing public safety in the name of accelerated distribution. He further states that humans are equipped to balance (at best) seven different dimensions of data, while AI can handle thousands of data dimensions and rapidly identify patterns and signals, resulting in early detection of potential issues or trends related to demographic factors and vaccinations.
New mutations of Covid-19 have already surfaced, which leads scientists to doubt the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines currently being distributed worldwide. These fears have led a research team at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to develop an AI-powered method to speed up vaccine developments and counter emergent mutations. Their machine learning model can create vaccine design cycles and zero in on the best potential preventative medical therapy in a matter of seconds, a process which would normally take months or even years to complete. The author of the USC study has also stated that this model can be adapted and optimised, helping humanity stay ahead of the coronavirus as it continues to mutate across the globe.
In the past year, the novel coronavirus has challenged humanity in many ways and realistically it will take quite a while for the world to recover from this catastrophe. Even though AI has made significant contributions towards managing this pandemic, it’s important to note that AI and other emerging technologies are not the answer to all our pandemic-related woes. AI has and will continue to expand our understanding of the virus and ideally lay the foundation for a cure, but our potential for a back-to-normal future is tied to the current capabilities of AI and emerging technologies. On the bright side, if we consider the expedited timeline of tech innovations, a Covid-free world might be closer than we think.