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Will AI Find An Effective Vaccine against COVID-19?

Will AI Find An Effective Vaccine against COVID-19?

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By Dr. Wanda Curlee and Dr. Kandis Y. Wyatt, PMP
Faculty Members, School of Business, American Military University

Start a Homeland Security degree at American Military University.

A new vaccine…isolation…virus mutating…the elderly… states reopening. All these are taglines that we’re hearing lately during the battle against COVID-19. But are we in any more danger now than we were before?

During the pandemic, we have listened to differing views. Countries – even states in the U.S. – have taken different approaches to the pandemic. But now that countries are reopening, how can artificial intelligence (AI) help us navigate the muddy waters?

Recently in Science magazine, staff writer Adrian Cho wrote about tracking the coronavirus via heat maps. Many AI researchers are working with tech companies to find a way to use the technology soon. Cho aptly notes that many may think that AI just kind of happens. If you have an AI computer, it does the work.

But before artificial intelligence can do its job, the AI needs to be trained. Once it is taught, however, AI does more work than an army of people could ever imagine. AI may have to be retrained if the patterns being watched change.

Some Apps Can Be Downloaded to Your Cellphone that Monitor Whom You Have Been Near

It’s well known that some apps can be downloaded to your cellphone that monitor whom you have been near. The data is kept for about five days so that if you or someone with whom you were within close proximity develops COVID-19, the app can help scientists to understand more about the spread of the virus. However, this app must be downloaded, which means the person must be willing to be tracked.

As we approach the beginning of the annual hurricane season, AI is used to forecast the track and potential landfall of tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes. Emergency managers also use AI to estimate the number of people who will be affected, their location and how long it will take to regain essential services. What’s more impressive is that through cell phone tower triangulation, critical weather watch and warning information can be sent directly to your cell phone.

Critical warning information, such as mandatory evacuation orders, inundated roads, and essential services, can be transmitted through automated assistants, such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Having more time helps with shelter preparations. With COVID-19, shelters will have to include adequate social distancing needs. And calculations can tell how many more shelters will be needed.

AI Robots Form a Bridge for Elder Care Workers When They Cannot Reach Isolated Patients

AI robots can help the elderly. For example, during this pandemic Intuition Robotics has placed its robot ElliQ, a therapeutic robotic pet, in the homes of 375 elderly people living alone. One elderly person said of ElliQ that “she knows when I am around.” The robotic pets also help with reminders such as doctor visits, and they form a bridge to elder care workers when they cannot reach isolated patients.

AI Helps with Food Production and Distribution

AI can help address the current imbalances in food production and distribution in the U.S. For example, the restaurant industry and school systems, both of which are mostly closed, have seen massive decreases in food consumption, with some projections being worse than those recorded during the Great Depression. Meanwhile, retail grocery stores have seen record numbers of customers shifting to purchasing more groceries and home essentials online. AI can help forecast the needs associated with this shift.

For example, while egg production may be the same as it was prior to the pandemic, the packaging may now be different. A restaurant might order eggs in crates of 200, but an individual consumer buys a container that holds only 12 eggs. While each school cafeteria may need 12 industrial freezers to accommodate students, the new need might be for just a single refrigeration-freezer unit for a household.

Before COVID-19 industrial refrigeration units (IFU) were used five times a day and at-home refrigerators (AHR) were used five times a day. Now, due to stay-at-home orders, IFUs are used zero times a day and AHRs are used 10 times a day because more people are at home. As a result, AI can help project the supply chain needs for a decrease in IFUs and an increase in AHRs. AI can also help forecast containerization and appliance demands for the shifting needs of the food industry.

More than 100 Projects Are in Motion Working on a Potential Coronavirus Vaccine

Will AI help to accelerate the production of a COVID-19 vaccine for the novel coronavirus? The answer is complicated. Some companies are using AI to develop a vaccine. Remember, AI is very good at seeing patterns, but it must be trained. And the data needs to be accurate. This virus is called novel because it is so new. So, what data is accurate? What data is just noise? Medical researchers must be able to let AI researchers know which is which.

“Work on a potential coronavirus vaccine is proceeding at breakneck pace around the world, with more than 100 projects in motion, yet even the best predictions put an effective vaccine at least nine months away,” according to an NBC News report.

Moderna, a U.S.-based company, on Monday announced that “the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in people appears to be safe and able to stimulate an immune response against the infection,” according to The New York Times. The company has also received permission from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to enter its second round of clinical trials and hopes to finalize the third round by early summer.

Pfizer and the University of Oxford say they might have something available for testing in the fall. Pfizer is testing here in the United States and falls under FDA rules and regulations, while University of Oxford is testing in the UK and falls under UK protocols. Oxford scientists hope to have results of how well the vaccine performed in healthy individuals. While all three may have positive results, we must temper our expectations because even with AI, the success rate may still be relatively low.

Companies Are Targeting the Virus from Different Perspectives

Some companies are targeting the virus from different perspectives: Some are targeting its shape; others are targeting its RNA. Time will tell, but perhaps we will have two different vaccines.

Once a vaccine is developed, then the packaging needs to be assessed. Does the packaging affect the viability of the vaccine? There are other questions as well that will need answers.

Government officials have stated that while current levels of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits are acceptable, they are concerned that they will run out of critical resources if there is another uptick in positive COVID-19 cases. In addition, there is a limited number of staff qualified to perform COVID-19 testing. Therefore, finding testing centers that can swiftly report results is problematic.

In some cases, multiple states are using the same testing facility. AI can help forecast when to move critical equipment to states that are expected to have increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases. AI can also assist in adjusting the supply chain and distributing tests to various centers so as not to overwhelm some of them with processing tests when there is an uptick in COVID-19.

While COVID-19 has changed our lives and will continue to alter the way we live. Will AI help to bring us back to a more normal way of life? Time will tell, but we have confidence in ethical AI researchers. You should, too.

About the Authors

Dr. Wanda Curlee is a full-time professor at American Military University. She has over 30 years of consulting and project management experience and has worked at several Fortune 500 companies. She has a Doctorate of Management and Organizational Leadership, an M.B.A., an M.A. and a B.A. Dr. Curlee has published numerous articles and several books on project management.

Dr. Kandis Wyatt, PMP, is a full-time professor of Transportation and Logistics Management in the School of Business. Professionally, Dr. Wyatt has implemented process development practices, designed and created instruction, and developed procedures and programs for civilian employees. Dr. Wyatt’s teaching philosophy includes emphasizing the importance of being an information facilitator and content guider to help students apply real life experiences to foundational principles. Online teaching is more than teaching to the test, it is creating an online learning community. The traditional role of the instructor has changed from “the sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.” Dr. Wyatt’s teaching style includes creating an environment that emphasizes diverse talents and ways of learning, prompt feedback, and active learning. 

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