This article is published in the October 2022 issue.

NSF Announces New Awards to Fund the Prediction and Prevention of Pandemics

The National Science Foundation announced a series of grants as a part of their new Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention (PIPP) program. The quick onset, mass devastation, and unpredictability of new strands and waves of contagion with COVID-19 taught us just how unprepared we were to face a global pandemic. Nearly $26 million in new awards will be used to support “high-risk, high-payoff convergent research that aims to identify, model, predict, track and mitigate the effects of future pandemics.

The Computing Community Consortium (CCC) wrote a series of white papers revolving around pandemic informatics. Published in November 2020, the first paper, Pandemic Informatics: Preparation, Robustness, and Resilience was part of of a series of white papers that the CCC produces every four years, in which members of the computing research community come together to identify key research challenges and opportunities.  In the area of pandemic informatics the goal was not only to identify computing solutions that would help with the current pandemic, but also to prepare the nation for another future disaster. Key recommendations were:

  • The development of models that are not just scientifically effective, but that support understanding on the part of the public, as well as actionable insights for policy makers.
  • Identification and preparation of resources (data, computational power, expertise) that allow us to respond quickly and predict effectively in a crisis situation. 
  • Research into real-time collection and updating of data, models, and model assumptions in rapidly changing environments.

Two addenda followed the original paper: Pandemic Informatics: Vaccine Distribution, Logistics, and Prioritization (March 2021) and Pandemic Informatics: Variants of Concern (April 2021). These two papers revisited the aforementioned recommendations, suggesting specific ways to collect more data, create models and develop infrastructures to slow the spread of COVID, make the vaccination process more effective and track/predict new variants. 

The series encouraged new government funding streams and emphasized an interdisciplinary research approach. NSF’s new awards seek to invest in over 500 researchers across all disciplines to support research and address challenges spanning the entire timeline of pandemic response, including “supporting data collection and analysis, creation of new sensors and predictive capabilities, methods for understanding impact and spread, processes to increase our ability to anticipate the role of human behavior and information sharing, and development of mitigation strategies and policy recommendations.

For more details, including specific recommendations and research directions, you can find the CCC’s pandemic informatics papers here; for more about NSF’s PIPP program and awards, please consult NSF News.

NSF Announces New Awards to Fund the Prediction and Prevention of Pandemics