3 Ways IT Contractors are Crucial to Vaccine Development

What most people don’t realise is that IT contractors and consultants are in an extremely flexible and adaptable position, so much so that they can even accommodate the specific demands of the pandemic. IT roles go far beyond the realms of cyberspace and cloud technology and into the domain of medical research, where IT professionals are some of the most crucial players in vaccine development.

You’d typically picture behind-the-scenes vaccine development as something which is solely handled by medical researchers and scientists, yet IT professionals are now crucial to the task of finding vaccines within a short amount of time.

If you’re an IT professional working with algorithms, software engineering, data analytics, deep learning, cognitive computing or similar, then this article is for you.

Why is the IT contractor workforce crucial to vaccine development?

There are two words which help to explain the connection between IT and vaccines, these are, Artificial Intelligence. It’s no doubt that you’re familiar with AI, maybe from films about robots or conspiracies about the AI takeover.

However, let’s dial it back and focus on the good here, that being the colossal tasks that AI has undertaken for us to have a vaccine available to the public, in under a year!

Without AI, it’s unlikely that the Pfizer vaccine would be available so quickly. Let’s explore the three main ways IT contractors are crucial to vaccine development.

1. Prediction

With the unprecedented pandemic of 2020, scientists and doctors were unable to rapidly predict how this novel virus was structured, how it affected humans and its capacity to spread. Thanks to AI, the coronavirus’ structure and infection rate was predicted, signalling the requirement for a vaccine.

In January 2020, IT professionals working in AI at Google DeepMind produced a computer software called AlphaFold, a system which predicts a protein’s 3D structure, and this proved to be integral to vaccine research.[i] Thanks to these experts, one of the predictions made using AlphaFold was, in fact, an accurate prediction for the shape of COVID-19, that being the distinctive ‘spike structure’, referring to the spike-shaped protein part of the virus that attaches itself to human cells.[ii] A suitable vaccine could then be developed to target the specific shape of the virus.

And it gets even more interesting. Before the pandemic even began, AI platform BlueDot identified a ‘cluster of “unusual pneumonia” cases’ in Wuhan, nine days before the WHO even alerted the public that there was a new coronavirus about town.[iii]

The use of big data analytics is what enabled BlueDot to identify the new virus, as it used a computer algorithm to detect pathogens from multiple data sources like news reports, medical bulletins, livestock reports, and population data to name a few.[iv]

The computer algorithm can even predict the spread of the disease by using airline ticket sales data from thousands of airports globally to estimate how far the virus could spread.[v]

It’s safe to say IT professionals are heroes in their own right. Their remarkable work on developing outbreak risk software such as BlueDot and intelligence software like AlphaFold has not only helped to advance the use of technology in the medical field but actually, save lives.

2. Trawling and Analysing Data

Trawling through a plethora of data to find answers isn’t just necessary for new viruses but also for diseases such as cancer, where if a tumour is detected by a clinician, AI can then sift through thousands of images to find all similar tumours, to suggest treatment and outcomes.[i]

When it comes to vaccine development, AI has been significant in scanning through data to identify patterns between SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, to create the COVID-19 Open Research Data Set, which has accelerated the discovery of the vaccine and other treatment.[ii] The Allen Institute of AI is responsible for the creation of this data set, again highlighting just how important IT experts are for this field of research.

Machine-learning and data science platforms such as Kaggle, are essential to sharing new medical information on coronavirus, for example, to share data about former epidemiological studies, transmission, diagnostics, and more.[iii]

Even if you’re an IT professional working in web development, there is a place in vaccine research for you, as demonstrated by the demand for platforms like Kaggle.

3. Processing Adverse Effects

Despite the scientific breakthrough of a vaccine, you can imagine that it’s still important to track any adverse reactions. AI has also been tasked with this job exactly.

The UK has spent £1.5m on a software company called GenPact to track and sort through reports of adverse reactions to the vaccine. The MHRA estimates there to be between 50,000 to 100,000 reports of side effects out of every 100 million doses at the beginning of the vaccine period. [i]

Software engineers, data analysts and more are essential to this task, as they can create IT solutions to track and process adverse effects at a much quicker rate than humans.

The call for IT professionals who can provide digital solutions is growing exponentially and vaccine development is just one of these areas. Aside from medical research, there’s hope on the horizon for more IT roles available in 2021. There’s no denying just how versatile IT contractors and consultants are, and whether you are an IT professional yourself, or you’re looking to hire an expert on a fixed-term basis, you should check out our app where we connect candidates and businesses. No strings attached, no middle man, just one app, with one purpose.

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[1] Oren Etzioni and Nicole Decario, AI Can Help Scientists Find a Covid-19 Vaccine, Wired (2020), <https://www.wired.com/story/opinion-ai-can-help-find-scientists-find-a-covid-19-vaccine/> [last accessed 17th December 2020]

[1] ibid.

[1] Cory Stieg, How this Canadian start-up spotted coronavirus before everyone else knew about it, CNBC (2020), <https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/03/bluedot-used-artificial-intelligence-to-predict-coronavirus-spread.html> [last accessed 16th December 2020]

[1] Isi Caulder, Ray Kovarik, and Courtney Cowan, AI in Focus: BlueDot and the Response to COVID-19, Bereskin and Parr (2020), <https://www.bereskinparr.com//doc/ai-in-focus-bluedot-and-the-response-to-covid-19> [last accessed 16th December 2020]

[1] ibid.

[1] Aaron Hurst, AI use cases in healthcare for Covid-19 and beyond, Information Age (2020), <https://www.information-age.com/use-cases-for-ai-healthcare-123491331/> [last accessed 16th December 2020]

[1] CORD-19, Semantic Scholar <https://www.semanticscholar.org/cord19> [last accessed 16th December 2020]

[1] COVID-19 Open Research Dataset Challenge (CORD-19), Kaggle (2020), <https://www.kaggle.com/allen-institute-for-ai/CORD-19-research-challenge> [last accessed 16th December 2020][1] Anna Gross, UK plans to use AI to process adverse reactions to Covid vaccines, Financial Times (2020), <https://www.ft.com/content/17a306cd-be75-48b4-996e-0c2916b34797> [last accessed 16th December 2020]