Could a computer game help us work out how best to use vaccines to control Covid?

Could a computer game help people to understand how vaccines work and how we have to distribute them worldwide to give us the best chance of overcoming viruses such as Covid?

The Vaccination Game was created by researchers at the University of Oxford’s MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, in collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London. The game challenges players to figure out how they can use limited doses of the vaccine to best control a viral disease like the flu.

The virtual vaccine in the game is available in limited doses per week and the player has to decide who to vaccinate in each of 99 cities worldwide that are part of the game.

At the end of the campaign, the player receives a report on how well they played the game and how many lives were saved by the vaccine.

Professor Hal Drakesmith and colleagues had the novel idea of devising the game. They’re part of a research network whose focus is on immunising babies and mothers to fight infections in low and middle-income countries.

“We originally had the idea of the game and began developing it back in 2019, with influenza as our example disease,” said Professor Drakesmith.

“Then Covid-19 struck and the ideas behind the game are obviously much more relevant.”

The main ambition is that the game will inform people. “It isn’t intended as a modelling or simulation tool, or meant to predict real-world scenarios,” Professor Drakesmith said.

“Instead, we hope it’s educational, as it illustrates how vaccines can work on a global scale, and shows that precisely how a vaccine is deployed across populations can be crucial to its effectiveness.”

Many different departments at Oxford MRC joined forces with Professor Drakesmith and his group to develop the game.

They also worked with Goldsmiths to produce the final version based on our knowledge of how a virus spreads, and what effect a vaccine might have.

Steve Taylor, a group leader on the project said, “You can replay the game multiple times to improve strategy and save more lives – it is possible to do very well.”

I can see that it could get quite competitive vying to be the world leader of Covid-19 vaccine distribution. Or, perhaps, become a leading philanthropist in ascertaining that all people are treated fairly.

Professor Drakesmith concludes, “We hope players find The Vaccination Game interesting, useful and fun.”

  • The game can be played online here: