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Scientists suggest a feasible and more efficient Covid-19 vaccine distribution strategy

The study shows that with the researchers' proposed strategy, the US can reduce the time to reach herd immunity by 76 days and use up less than 35% of their vaccine doses.

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Aakash Molpariya
Aakash started in Nov 2018 as a writer at Revyuh.com. Since joining, as writer, he is mainly responsible for Software, Science, programming, system administration and the Technology ecosystem, but due to his versatility he is used for everything possible. He writes about topics ranging from AI to hardware to games, stands in front of and behind the camera, creates creative product images and much more. He is a trained IT systems engineer and has studied computer science. By the way, he is enthusiastic about his own small projects in game development, hardware-handicraft, digital art, gaming and music. Email: aakash (at) revyuh (dot) com

The U.S. is a few days from achieving President Joe Biden’s objective of immunizing 100 million individuals 100 days since he took office. While the US is already leading the world in both the number of Coronavirus cases at over 29.7 million and deaths reaching 539,000, it has ventured up as a leader in immunizing its population.

In any way, the current vaccination system doesn’t consider the main reproduction number(R0), which assists with assessing the spread of COVID-19 cases.

A new study by Anthony R. Ives of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Claudio Bozzuto from Germany’s the Wildlife Analysis GmbH published on the medRxiv point out that if the US continues with its current vaccination efforts, it will take about 4.5 months to reach herd immunity.

Nevertheless, they highlight a more cost-effective and more effective vaccine strategy that takes geography into account. This could help allocate vaccines for high population counties that tend to be lower-class and with a high minority population. These counties are presently on track to be the last ones to reach herd immunity under the current vaccine distribution strategy.

The authors write:

“From an epidemiological perspective, because differences in R0 values among counties are partly driven by their population density, counties with the highest risk of resurgent and severe outbreaks are last at reaching herd immunity. From a socio-economic perspective, these high-density counties include many of those that are economic engines in the USA. Finally, high-density counties have relatively large African American populations, and the current distribution plan leads to a lag of about 4 days behind whites in reaching herd immunity.”

Proposed vaccination strategy targets counties with high R0 numbers

Given that urban environments are at high risk of spreading the virus, dense populations produce a higher estimate of R0. Therefore, the authors argue that vaccination strategies should target dense populations to reach herd immunity sooner and avoid more COVID-19 cases.

To calculate this, they tracked the proportion of U.S. populations that would reach herd immunity under the current distribution strategy. Starting from March 15, 2021, they assume the following: the current vaccination rate using either of the three FDA approved vaccines — Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, or Johnson & Johnson — would be 1.58 million doses per day when 71.1 million people are already vaccinated with at least one dose, vaccines are 90% effective, and people who are vaccinated cannot spread COVID-19.

Their results showed herd immunity in the United States could be reached in approximately 130 days.

New plan reaches herd immunity sooner in all counties

In contrast, their analysis suggests their proposed strategy would help the United States reach herd immunity around the same for all counties and 51 days sooner than the current vaccination strategy. In addition, the United States would ultimately use 39% fewer vaccines under the new plan.

“These results are contingent on the R0-based strategy starting mid-March; the overall benefits will expectedly shrink the longer the population size-based strategy is kept.”

With new variants of concern from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil, the researchers note these estimates could change, and more vaccinations may be needed.

To account for the new variants’ higher transmission rates, they adjusted their mathematical formula to include transmission 1.5 times higher than what was initially measured at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

The findings show that with the researchers’ proposed strategy, the United States would reduce the time to reach herd immunity by 76 days and use up less than 35% of their vaccine doses.  

The evidence confirms that increasing vaccination efforts in more populated counties would be fairer and more efficient, use up fewer vaccines in the long-run, and reach herd immunity faster.

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