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Soo-Haeng Cho and the Influenza Vaccine

I’ve been back in the US for about six weeks now, and am getting used to being back in my academic life. A sign of the slowness of this transition, however, is that our operations management group here at the Tepper School is hiring a junior faculty person, and I didn’t notice, so I have missed most of the job talks. I feel bad about that: the best part of hiring is seeing the best new research from around the world.

Lasts week, Soo-Haeng Cho interviewed here (and did very well by all reports). Soo-Haeng works in a number of areas of operations management, including the use of OM methods in medical decisions. He has a very nice paper on choosing the correct flu vaccine each year. This issue has been in the news recently (including CNN ) because the current vaccine is missing quite a few of the flu bugs. Cho’s paper talks about many of the issues that go into the choice of vaccine, not all of which are reasonably covered by the popular press. In particular, I hadn’t realized the strong advantage of doing the same as last year in terms of getting reliable vaccines out to people.  From his paper:

The production yields of strains are variable and unknown owing to its biological characteristic (Matthews 2006). Moreover, yield uncertainty is increased significantly when a vaccine strain is changed. The magnitude of this challenge is illustrated in the following quote from an industry representative (Committee
2003):
“certainly the best way to ensure this predictability of supply is not to recommend any [strain] changes, … a second best way is to minimize the number of strain changes. Each new strain can yield anywhere from 50 to 120 percent of the average strain.”
Thus, even if a new virus strain is predominant, a change is made only when the benefit from improved efficacy outweighs the risk associated with making the change in production. For instance, although new A/Fujian-like virus strains were widely spreading during the 2002-3 season, the Committee did not select
that strain because it was not suitable for large-scale manufacturing.

It is clear that understanding the medical decision making requires the understanding of manufacturing operations, which I think is a great theme in the upcoming years for our field.