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Optimizing vaccination strategies for disease outbreaks

OCT 21, 2022
When vaccine supply is limited, who should be inoculated first? The answer depends on demographics, rates of contagion, and lethality.
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For months, Covid-19 vaccines were in short supply and only available to frontline workers and the most at-risk individuals. Governments were faced with the task of deciding how best to prioritize vaccine distribution, and finding the optimum solution is far from easy.

Schulenburg et al. developed a model to determine optimum vaccine strategies during infectious disease outbreaks. Their model uses real-world disease and population data and examines multiple variables, such as disease lethality, contagion rate, and demographic differences, to find the best way to use a limited vaccine supply.

“We used a data-driven approach where a basic mathematical model is fueled by extensive real-world data, allowing us to understand underlying mechanisms behind the epidemic dynamics and concomitantly represent real situations,” said author Silvio Ferreira. “The central conclusion is that there are no simple answers for which strategies outperform each other.”

While every potential outbreak is different, the authors found that for many of the more aggressive cases, the best option to minimize deaths is to vaccinate the most vulnerable, like the elderly and immunocompromised. However, for some cases where a disease is slow to spread, vaccinating those who are most at risk of spreading it is the correct choice.

“We believe that our study points towards a mechanistic and more foundational epidemiological modeling where a data-driven approach can synergistically contribute to and enhance the more traditional models,” said Ferreira.

Source: “Effects of infection fatality ratio and social contact matrices on vaccine prioritization strategies,” by Arthur Schulenburg, Wesley Cota, Guilherme S. Costa, and Silvio C. Ferreira, Chaos (2022). The article can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0096532 .

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