A simulation-deep reinforcement learning (SiRL) approach for epidemic control optimization

Sabah Bushaj, Xuecheng Yin, Arjeta Beqiri, Donald Andrews, I. Esra Büyüktahtakın

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


In this paper, we address the controversies of epidemic control planning by developing a novel Simulation-Deep Reinforcement Learning (SiRL) model. COVID-19 reminded constituents over the world that government decision-making could change their lives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments were concerned with reducing fatalities as the virus spread but at the same time also maintaining a flowing economy. In this paper, we address epidemic decision-making regarding the interventions necessary given of the epidemic based on the purpose of the decision-maker. Further, we intend to compare different vaccination strategies, such as age-based and random vaccination, to shine a light on who should get priority in the vaccination process. To address these issues, we propose a simulation-deep reinforcement learning (DRL) framework. This framework is composed of an agent-based simulation model and a governor DRL agent that can enforce interventions in the agent-based simulation environment. Computational results show that our DRL agent can learn effective strategies and suggest optimal actions given a specific epidemic situation based on a multi-objective reward structure. We compare our DRL agent’s decisions to government interventions at different periods of time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our results suggest that more could have been done to control the epidemic. In addition, if a random vaccination strategy that allows super-spreaders to get vaccinated early were used, infections would have been reduced by 32% at the expense of 4% more deaths. We also show that a behavioral change of fully quarantining 10% of the risky individuals and using a random vaccination strategy leads to a reduction of the death toll by 14% and 27% compared to the age-based vaccination strategy that was implemented and the New Jersey reported data, respectively. We have also demonstrated the flexibility of our approach to be applied to other locations by validating and applying our model to the COVID-19 case in the state of Kansas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-277
Number of pages33
JournalAnnals of Operations Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Management Science and Operations Research


  • Agent-based simulation
  • COVID-19
  • Deep reinforcement learning
  • Epidemic control planning
  • Simulation-deep reinforcement learning
  • Vaccination strategy


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