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Mass Vax Empirical Simulation

Improving the operation of Covid-19 large vaccination centres using operational research

Project status



1 Dec 2020 to 31 Dec 2021

Mass vaccination has offered a route out of the pandemic in a way that social restrictions can be eased, and economic activity can safely resume. For many countries, dedicated vaccination centres have been key to that effort. However, with no directly comparable historical experience there is little information to guide their design and operational management. In addressing this significant challenge, our timely modelling work has demonstrated the value of Operational Research (O.R.) in helping clinicians and managers to make improved decisions in the management of complex systems.

There are a number of operational considerations in configuring an effective and efficient vaccination centre. First, there is the number of vaccinees to book in for each operating period. Ultimately the aim is to maximise throughput, but this must be done safely. If throughput is too high then unsustainable queues will form, compromising social distancing and impairing patient experience (important for ensuring a repeat visit for additional doses). On the other hand, low throughput leads to an uneconomic use of available resources. Additional considerations relate to the optimal allocation of activity-level resources to ensure balanced server utilisation and the incorporation of sufficient ‘slack’ in pathway capacity to ensure any ‘shocks’ can be readily absorbed (such as staff sickness or a number of vaccinees arriving all at once).

We carried out an empirically informed modelling and simulation study collecting data from a number of large vaccination centres in the South West. Having started client engagement and data collection in late 2020, our work is, to the best of our knowledge, one of the first to demonstrate the value O.R. in the context of the COVID-19 vaccination effort.

Our work has shown that O.R. can produce timely analysis of the appropriate sophistication to inform management considerations and operational decision making at COVID-19 vaccination centres. The analysis, performed at the very start of the UK’s mass vaccination effort (December 2020 to February 2021), has illustrated the capability of computer simulation to influence both the initial configuration of vaccination centres and their ongoing operation.

One example is the setting of daily bookings at Vaccination Centre A. Adverse consequences were averted through use of the figure informed by modelling. Had bookings been set 25% higher, at the originally proposed figure, then capacity would likely have been overwhelmed, resulting in significant congestion at the site. With many of the bookings initially allocated to the elderly and with much media interest, this could have generated negative publicity in the local and national press as well as compromising public confidence.

More information

For more information, see the press release and watch a video about this project here.

A short paper has appeared in Vaccine and a preprint is available in medRxiv. The full peer-reviewed paper is still under review...