Pandemic project earns Calgary teen spot at national science fair

Grade 9 student Rachel Simantov coded an algorithm she says could help health officials manage pandemics

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Blending aspects of science, finance and social justice, a Calgary teenager’s project outlining a framework for optimal pandemic management has earned her a spot at Canada’s largest youth science fair.

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After receiving several awards at the Calgary Youth Science Fair, Calgary Jewish Academy Grade 9 student Rachel Simantov hopes the chance to showcase her work at the Canada-Wide Science Fair is the first step on the road to helping more people get access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.

The 14-year-old developed an algorithm she says could help officials find the most optimal and cost-effective methods for deploying vaccines and medication for any infectious disease, increasing countries’ abilities to send medical aid to regions that need it most.

Simantov said such a program could be used particularly in the implementation of initiatives such as COVAX, which aims to provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines by having countries with surpluses donating doses to countries that can’t afford to buy their own. Utilizing her algorithm, she said donations could increase and improve the sustainability of COVAX.

“What I’m trying to do now is bring my project to more awareness, I think going to National Science Fair is going to help a lot,” said Simantov.

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She said she came up with the idea for her project after taking a programming class offered by Johns Hopkins University last year. She began coding simple projects as she became increasingly proficient with the language.

“Eventually it was like,‘ Hey, I can use this to see what COVID does to us, ’” she said.

Out of that came the general idea for her project, spurred on by a conversation with her family about the inequitable access to vaccines for poorer countries.

“It’s really important to me,” she said. “There’s a lot of injustice in the world and I’m just trying to solve a little part of it. And I hope that I’ll be able to contribute something, at least. ”

She said she plans to show her work to WHO officials and, since her project deals a lot with economic impact, World Bank officials.

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Simantov and a group of seven other local students will represent Calgary at the upcoming Canada-Wide Science Fair. While she said she’s honored to be recognized for her dozens of hours of work, she’s more excited to have the opportunity to showcase it on the national stage.

The Canada-Wide Science Fair is scheduled to take place virtually from May 16 to 20. For more information, visit youthscience.ca.

[email protected]

Twitter: @michaelrdrguez

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