Impact of vaccine prioritization strategies on mitigating COVID-19: an agent-based simulation study using an urban region in the United States.BMC Med Res Methodol. 2021 12 05; 21(1):272.BM
Approval of novel vaccines for COVID-19 had brought hope and expectations, but not without additional challenges. One central challenge was understanding how to appropriately prioritize the use of limited supply of vaccines. This study examined the efficacy of the various vaccine prioritization strategies using the vaccination campaign underway in the U.S.
The study developed a granular agent-based simulation model for mimicking community spread of COVID-19 under various social interventions including full and partial closures, isolation and quarantine, use of face mask and contact tracing, and vaccination. The model was populated with parameters of disease natural history, as well as demographic and societal data for an urban community in the U.S. with 2.8 million residents. The model tracks daily numbers of infected, hospitalized, and deaths for all census age-groups. The model was calibrated using parameters for viral transmission and level of community circulation of individuals. Published data from the Florida COVID-19 dashboard was used to validate the model. Vaccination strategies were compared using a hypothesis test for pairwise comparisons.
Three prioritization strategies were examined: a minor variant of CDC's recommendation, an age-stratified strategy, and a random strategy. The impact of vaccination was also contrasted with a no vaccination scenario. The study showed that the campaign against COVID-19 in the U.S. using vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna 1) reduced the cumulative number of infections by 10% and 2) helped the pandemic to subside below a small threshold of 100 daily new reported cases sooner by approximately a month when compared to no vaccination. A comparison of the prioritization strategies showed no significant difference in their impacts on pandemic mitigation.
The vaccines for COVID-19 were developed and approved much quicker than ever before. However, as per our model, the impact of vaccination on reducing cumulative infections was found to be limited (10%, as noted above). This limited impact is due to the explosive growth of infections that occurred prior to the start of vaccination, which significantly reduced the susceptible pool of the population for whom infection could be prevented. Hence, vaccination had a limited opportunity to reduce the cumulative number of infections. Another notable observation from our study is that instead of adhering strictly to a sequential prioritizing strategy, focus should perhaps be on distributing the vaccines among all eligible as quickly as possible, after providing for the most vulnerable. As much of the population worldwide is yet to be vaccinated, results from this study should aid public health decision makers in effectively allocating their limited vaccine supplies.