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Vaccine Rollout: How AI Can Help

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DENVER, CO – JANUARY 30: UCHealth registered nurse Karen Nerger administers a dose of the … [+] Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a mass COVID-19 vaccination event on January 30, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. UCHealth, Colorado’s largest healthcare provider, plans to vaccinate 10,000 seniors over 70 during the drive-up event this weekend. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)
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The rapid development of the vaccines from companies like Pfizer and Moderna certainly represent amazing achievements. These companies leveraged cutting-edge science, such as messenger RNA (mRNA), as well as smart approaches for the approval process and the manufacturing infrastructure. 
But unfortunately, the rollout of the vaccines has been far from encouraging. The fact is that the U.S. healthcare supply chain is extremely complex and not particularly amenable to quick distribution at scale.
Yet it seems that technologies like AI can help with the challenges. “Humans don’t have the capacity to consider thousands of competing and evolving factors,” said Arijit Sengupta, who is the Founder and CEO of Aible. “This is precisely what AI does best—that is, complex scenario planning and hypothesis testing that’s flexible enough to adjust quickly to new information so that decisions can be made based on the best available evidence.”

So then what are some AI approaches, recommendations and strategies that can make a difference? Let’s take a look:
Aditya Sriram, the AI Portfolio Lead and CoE Program Manager at ibi, a TIBCO company:
The clinical trials have portrayed the vaccination as a positive solution against COVID-19. But in practice, the testing is on a sample population. As the vaccination rolls out to larger populations, the possible adverse effects caused by the COVID-19 vaccinations will be more apparent. As opposed to a reactive indication on patient symptoms, AI can provide insights on patients that are likely to react to the vaccination, given their medical history and demographics information.

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Cheryl Rodenfels, the healthcare CTO at Nutanix:
AI can be useful with the vaccine reporting process. This process requires multiple steps, and hinges on accurate reporting of data. AI allows for less human inspection and condenses the data onto one plane, so healthcare organizations do not need to build reports for multiple electronic health records or pharmacy systems.
Nigel Duffy, an EY Global AI Leader:
AI could be used to target messages and communications to those eligible to receive a vaccine. These messages could be customized by AI in content, form, and medium to motivate citizens to take the vaccine by highlighting the personal benefits to them (e.g., depending on their profession, vulnerability, etc.) and by countering any misconceptions about the risks associated with the vaccine (e.g., certain audiences might be persuaded by science, others by role models from their community). These messages could also be customized to best inform citizens about how they can access the vaccine, e.g., register via phone call, website, or text.
Ted Kwartler, the Vice President of Trusted AI at DataRobot:
Vaccine distribution is often discussed at the macro-level, such as the national or state, but practically, it also requires a much smaller scale. Within a state, what locations and subpopulations should be allocated vaccines in what order? AI-augmented simulations can, at a granular level, factor in hundreds of inputs, like mobility data, hospital utilization, and current infection rates, to forecast thousands of possible futures for dozens of locations within a state. This enables decision-makers to send vaccines to those communities and people with the greatest need right when it helps the most. However, with AI, patterns in the data need to be understood to avoid bias. An AI-enabled vaccine rollout could reinforce societal inequalities if it fails to account for racial, age, and economic risks, as the burden of sickness has been unevenly distributed.
Tony Bates, the CEO of Genesys:
Chatbots are a great example of an AI-infused technology that can address COVID-19 questions via a customer’s existing voice, chat or social channel. Genesys recently released COVID-19 Vaccine Rapid Response, a new digital solution that will enable companies to use AI-driven chatbots to help address the wave of expected requests for information from more than 330 million people in the U.S.
Dr. Steve Kearney, who is the Medical Director at SAS:
Many times when you see AI bias, it’s because you are not incorporating all of the appropriate inputs or outputs to a data model. Simply put, bias happens when you don’t see something in your data set. For example, public health experts may be basing priority vaccine decisions on county hospital paid claims data, but they may not realize that all of that data is based on people who have health insurance and access to hospital care. It largely ignores vulnerable populations without health insurance or a medical history in a given location. Public health populations must recognize social determinants of health, education, job status, and where people live by bringing in government databases and private databases alike. When you bring in all of that data you get a completely different look at the population that drives insights about where to prioritize distribution.
Chris Hale, the Founder and CEO of Kountable:
One of the key missing ingredients is a government-private partnership rooted in quality data acquisition at the last mile that aligns that data acquisition and utilization process with the data sovereignty of the individual patient. This is key to a successful government-private partnership that will have the staying power to deliver over time by building trust in the US population. In addition, the partnership would need to consider interoperability across federal and state data governance and health care portability policies. It sounds complex, but the good news is that the tech exists to do this today and there are companies that are built to deliver it and that have the values needed to align with the patient’s desire to own and control their own data.
Mike Beckley, the Chief Technology Officer and Founder of Appian:
AI can and should help with a vaccine rollout but probably not in the way people are imagining it. It doesn’t take AI to figure out who and where people are at risk from COVID-19. Instead, AI solutions like Appian Intelligent Document Processing should be used to validate vaccine eligibility. Keep people in control but use AI to read doctor’s notes validating pre-existing health conditions or utility bills to confirm residency.
The trouble now is mostly how does your local government handle the crush of calls and emails and questions—and there are Conversational AI providers like ContactEngine that can help automate appointment scheduling far better than the very expensive and bloated CRM products being heavily advertised these days.
Tom (@ttaulli) is an advisor/board member to startups and the author of Artificial Intelligence Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction, The Robotic Process Automation Handbook: A Guide to Implementing RPA Systems and Implementing AI Systems: Transform Your Business in 6 Steps. He also has developed various online courses, such as for the COBOL and Python programming languages.

New Women-Led Startup Creates A Circular Model In Furniture

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New furniture brand Sabai will buy back used pieces and build a circular model in order to reduce … [+] waste.
Ben Hartschuh
Sabai, a new furniture brand comes from two women under the age of 30 who aspire to make home furnishings more eco-friendly and affordable. Their goal, according to co-founder Phantila Phataraprasit, is to pioneer a new standard for the furniture industry. Many companies intentionally design products, she says, that need to be replaced in order to increase their sales—products which then end up in landfills. Sabai products are designed so that customers can repair the damaged parts, or sell back older sofas, extending the life of their furniture in a way, she says, that’s both financially and ecologically beneficial.
“To our knowledge, Sabai is the first ever direct-to-consumer furniture brand to pilot a national buyback program,” Phataraprasit says.
Working with Floorfound, which has a nationwide network of warehouses and the capacity to handle the logistics that comes with such an expansive footprint, the young duo have been able to take their business across the US.
Phataraprasit spoke with Forbes on their new bootstrapped business, the nuances of the furniture industry, and their hopes for sustainability.
Chhabra: What are the biggest challenges with a buyback program?

Phataraprasit: I think one of the biggest challenges about a buyback is the scale of it. Logistics are top of mind for any DTC company, and that is especially true here. With our decision to build out a buyback program, we were committing to double the logistics – figuring out how to bring a sofa into our clients’ world, and then also take it out. You need to be able to address the customer facing aspect of the business, transportation, holding and processing, and then facilitate a whole new customer transaction. It’s a big ordeal with little financial payoff due to the nature of secondhand pricing, and something that is certainly a commitment bandwidth wise for a small startup. 
Being able to address the end of lifecycle for our pieces, and to be able to roll out nationwide from the start, was a dream we’ve had from day one and it’s really wonderful to see it in action. To us, it’s more about fulfilling our promise of true sustainability with customers and really challenging the industry to address their part in America’s waste problem. 

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Chhabra: Some of your competitors have started offering some version of a buyback program. How will yours be different?
Phataraprasit: I actually haven’t seen any competitors offering this, though we have seen this model used in other industries and also abroad. Fashion companies like Eileen Fisher have piloted programs targeted at taking responsibility for their product, and IKEA has launched a very ambitious and wonderful buyback program in many countries but it’s only operational outside the U.S. 
Our goal with this program is not to be one of a kind but to lead the charge and hopefully make this program ubiquitous in 5 years. Funnily enough, the day we launched The Sabai Standard, a competitor posted their commitment to full life cycle programs. And that’s exactly what we want to see – this isn’t about being unique, but pushing the industry to do it’s part. 
Chhabra: How much furniture waste is created annually?
Phataraprasit: It’s estimated that 12 million tons of furniture waste is created annually in America, with only 20% of it being recycled. That means over 9 million tons of furniture will find itself in a landfill each year. 
Chhabra: What do you do with the furniture you purchase?
Phataraprasit: The furniture that we purchase is sold through our secondhand line – Sabai Revive. The pieces are discounted and work on a consignment store model to some extent. Pieces are held for 90 days and sold at a discount, with a percentage of the sale price (20% in store credit or 15% in cash) going back to the customer if the piece is sold. If the piece is not sold, it is donated so that it can continue to be used. Our pieces are also designed to be easily recycled when it does come to that. 
Chhabra: Can furniture truly be circular?
Phataraprasit: Absolutely! That’s exactly what we’re striving for here. Our pieces are made largely from recycled or upcycled materials, and also to be recycled easily – we’ve recently removed glue from our manufacturing process because that inhibits what parts can be recycled. From there, our goal is to maximize each product’s time in use, but ultimately, each piece can then be recycled again, theoretically starting a new life as a new Sabai piece. 
Chhabra: What is your personal background and why were you inspired to go into this space?
Phataraprasit: I started Sabai while in my first year of law school, having spent the year prior working in finance. While my background is not in the furniture space, I grew up around it as my extended family is involved in the furniture industry in Thailand and definitely developed an appreciation for design. My family is also very entrepreneurial as well as environmentally conscious, so I always enjoyed coming up with different business ideas and solutions with sustainability in mind. 
I think there is something to be said for sustainability practices in other countries, and the commitment to using pieces with intention, and repairing products rather than throwing out the old for something shiny and new. This is certainly a mentality that is slowly building in the U.S., but I wanted to do my part to push businesses to innovate and create with sustainability at the forefront. 
Chhabra: What is the story behind the name?
Phataraprasit: We wanted to convey a sense of comfort and ease through our name. I’m from Thailand, so my co-founder, Caitlin, asked me if there’s a word for that in Thai, and sure enough there was! “Sabai” is a word that is very commonly used to describe anything from objects, to experiences, to feelings and can mean cozy, comfortable, easy, and effortless. We thought this was perfect because we want our customers to not only feel quite literally comfortable in our furniture, but also wanted the experience of creating a sustainable home to be a breeze. 
Chhabra: How would you describe the furniture industry?
Phataraprasit: It’s an incredibly welcoming and friendly industry – but there is certainly a commitment to the status quo. We’ve come up against quite a few hurdles as we’ve built out Sabai just because we’re young women and aiming to do something new, and that can be scary for people. But I think as we’ve been able to prove the validity of the business model, we’ve opened up the eyes of some of our peers. I think ours and the success of other DTC furniture companies is only a good thing, the furniture industry needs a little shaking up!