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In Medical decision making : an international journal of the Society for Medical Decision Making

BACKGROUND : Policy makers are facing more complicated challenges to balance saving lives and economic development in the post-vaccination era during a pandemic. Epidemic simulation models and pandemic control methods are designed to tackle this problem. However, most of the existing approaches cannot be applied to real-world cases due to the lack of adaptability to new scenarios and micro representational ability (especially for system dynamics models), the huge computation demand, and the inefficient use of historical information.

METHODS : We propose a novel Pandemic Control decision making framework via large-scale Agent-based modeling and deep Reinforcement learning (PaCAR) to search optimal control policies that can simultaneously minimize the spread of infection and the government restrictions. In the framework, we develop a new large-scale agent-based simulator with vaccine settings implemented to be calibrated and serve as a realistic environment for a city or a state. We also design a novel reinforcement learning architecture applicable to the pandemic control problem, with a reward carefully designed by the net monetary benefit framework and a sequence learning network to extract information from the sequential epidemiological observations, such as number of cases, vaccination, and so forth.

RESULTS : Our approach outperforms the baselines designed by experts or adopted by real-world governments and is flexible in dealing with different variants, such as Alpha and Delta in COVID-19. PaCAR succeeds in controlling the pandemic with the lowest economic costs and relatively short epidemic duration and few cases. We further conduct extensive experiments to analyze the reasoning behind the resulting policy sequence and try to conclude this as an informative reference for policy makers in the post-vaccination era of COVID-19 and beyond.

LIMITATIONS : The modeling of economic costs, which are directly estimated by the level of government restrictions, is rather simple. This article mainly focuses on several specific control methods and single-wave pandemic control.

CONCLUSIONS : The proposed framework PaCAR can offer adaptive pandemic control recommendations on different variants and population sizes. Intelligent pandemic control empowered by artificial intelligence may help us make it through the current COVID-19 and other possible pandemics in the future with less cost both of lives and economy.

HIGHLIGHTS : We introduce a new efficient, large-scale agent-based epidemic simulator in our framework PaCAR, which can be applied to train reinforcement learning networks in a real-world scenario with a population of more than 10,000,000.We develop a novel learning mechanism in PaCAR, which augments reinforcement learning with sequence learning, to learn the tradeoff policy decision of saving lives and economic development in the post-vaccination era.We demonstrate that the policy learned by PaCAR outperforms different benchmark policies under various reality conditions during COVID-19.We analyze the resulting policy given by PaCAR, and the lessons may shed light on better pandemic preparedness plans in the future.

Guo Xudong, Chen Peiyu, Liang Shihao, Jiao Zengtao, Li Linfeng, Yan Jun, Huang Yadong, Liu Yi, Fan Wenhui


COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, agent-based modeling, artificial intelligence, epidemic simulation, health policy, infectious disease, nonpharmaceutical interventions, pandemic control, reinforcement learning