Jill Neimark in Undark:
IF THE BOOK of nature is written in the language of mathematics, as Galileo once declared, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought that truth home for the world’s mathematicians, who have been galvanized by the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
So far this year, they have been involved in everything from revealing how contagious the novel coronavirus is, how far we should stand from each other, how long an infected person might shed the virus, how a single strain spread from Europe to New York and then burst across America, and how to ‘’flatten the curve’‘ to save hundreds of thousands of lives. Modeling also helped persuade the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the virus can be airborne and transmitted by aerosols that stay aloft for hours.
And at the moment many are grappling with a particularly urgent — and thorny — area of research: modeling the optimal rollout of a vaccine. Because vaccine supply will be limited at first, the decisions about who gets those first doses could save tens of thousands of lives. This is critical now that promising early results are coming in about two vaccine candidates — one from Pfizer and BioNTech and one from Moderna — that may be highly effective and for which the companies may apply for emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
But figuring out how to allocate vaccines — there are close to 50 in clinical trials on humans — to the right groups at the right time is “a very complex problem,” says Eva Lee, director of the Center for Operations Research in Medicine and Health Care at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Lee has modeled dispensing strategies for vaccines and medical supplies for Zika, Ebola, and influenza, and is now working on Covid-19.