Using AI to provide direction on deployment of COVID-19 tests and vaccines

Halifax, NS (May 14, 2020) Dr. James Hughes, an assistant professor in Saint Francis Xavier University’s Faculty of Computer Science, is leading a study that will use artificial intelligence (AI) to select best strategies for COVID-19 vaccination, testing, and treatment in Nova Scotian communities.

“It may be the case that different strategies are required for more rural Nova Scotian communities versus a densely populated urban area like Halifax,” says Dr. Hughes. “Our software is being designed to evaluate strategies on social networks, making it possible to design vaccination strategies for specific communities based on their unique social network.”

Dr. Hughes’ research team is comprised of experts in mathematics and computer science from Canada and the US. A recent grant from the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition will now help propel their work forward.

The AI will be tested on different social networks categorized by contact rate and connectivity. Dr. Hughes and his team have designed it to be highly adaptable, with code that is fast enough to be re-run frequently as additional information becomes available.

“The AI adapts to current information on infected and recovered individuals,” says Dr. Hughes. “The proposed software takes a collection of standard vaccine deployment strategies and uses simulation to select the most effective strategy, based on current circumstances.”

The team is poised to rapidly deliver usable, tested software tools within a few months. As effective tools are deployed, the project focus will shift to helping other research teams and policy makers incorporate the new technology and results into their own software and strategies.

“Our system will be designed for easy hand-off to researchers and policy makers,” says Dr. Hughes. “This will allow policy makers to make important, evidence-based decisions using tools developed through data-driven research.”

Dr. Hughes explains that, once developed, the software will be made freely available to the public to encourage reach beyond Nova Scotia.

“We hope that it will be used to inform decisions throughout Canada and the world and provide insight into future pandemic responses.”

This research project was funded by the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition. Partners include the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Dalhousie University, Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, IWK Health Centre, IWK Foundation, QEII Health Sciences Foundation, Dartmouth General Hospital Foundation, and Research Nova Scotia. The Coalition is dedicated to leading and fostering a research environment that engages our academic partnerships and responds to the current needs of Nova Scotians and our health care system, in addition to maintaining the expertise in innovative research, discovery science, population/social sciences, and health system improvement. This funding partnership provides the opportunity to catalyze COVID-19 related research initiatives and achieve collective social impact. For more information visit