UNT team develops program to help distribute COVID-19 vaccine

Monday, January 11, 2021 - 15:57
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Watch a demonstration of how RE-PLAN can be used for COVID-19 vaccination planning and distribution.

DENTON (UNT), Texas — A team of researchers at the University of North Texas developed a cloud-based computer program called RE-PLAN to help state and local public health agencies distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to ensure its timely availability according to each state’s guidelines.

RE-PLAN is a program that pulls data from a variety of sources to help public health agencies create response plans to use during an epidemic. These response plans include locations where medications or vaccines will be distributed. RE-PLAN uses detailed population information to help public health agencies place special resources in the proximity of people who need them. These resources include services to help people who have disabilities, people who do not speak English, and people who do not have cars.

“It’s all about helping public health departments understand where they need to put resources and how many resources they need,” said Marty O’Neill, director of UNT’s Center for Computational Epidemiology and Response Analysis. “These decisions must be made with respect to the specific needs of the populations they’re serving.”

Using RE-PLAN, agencies have the choice to either start from scratch on a plan, a process that, with the program, could take under an hour, or start from their existing emergency plans.

The RE-PLAN system was originally designed at UNT to create emergency response plans for bioterrorism events involving anthrax or smallpox. It has been successfully used to create response plans by agencies, including the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

When COVID-19 started spreading rapidly across Asia in January, O’Neill led a team of researchers to adapt RE-PLAN to focus on facilitating COVID-19 vaccinations.

In addition to identifying which areas might need translators, easier accessibility, or more vaccination clinics, O’Neill’s team added the ability to explore where there are high rates of uninsured populations. In regions where COVID-19 vaccinations are being distributed to physician offices, health agencies will need to understand how to make vaccines available to their uninsured populations who do not have a medical provider. 

“We built RE-PLAN to solve a lot of the challenging problems involved in this type of emergency response planning. Public health agencies need to be able to choose where to place vaccination sites and determine how to distribute special resources to serve vulnerable populations,” O’Neill said. “We have worked to make the system as flexible as possible knowing that jurisdictions will need a variety of approaches to meet the needs of their communities.”

“It’s about making vaccination plans equitable,” O’Neill said. “We’re not going to successfully fight this disease if pockets of people are left out of vaccination plans.”

RE-PLAN has been used by the Texas Department of State Health Services and by Los Angeles and Orange Counties in California. Planners from all eight Texas DSHS service regions have expressed interest in using the system for COVID-19 vaccination planning.

Detailed information about the development of RE-PLAN and its success can be found in this article A Synergistic Approach to Data-Driven Response Planning published online by Cambridge University Press.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

Media Contacts:

Kris Muller
kris.muller@unt.edu
(940) 565-3509