BACKGROUND: Prioritization of higher-risk people for COVID-19 vaccination could prevent more deaths, but could slow vaccination speed. We used mathematical modeling to examine the trade-off between vaccination speed and prioritization for individuals age 65+ and essential workers.
METHODS: We used a stochastic, discrete-time susceptible-exposed-infected-recovered (SEIR) model with age- and comorbidity-adjusted COVID-19 outcomes (infections, hospitalizations, and deaths). The model was calibrated to COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU census, and deaths in NYC. We assumed 10,000 vaccinations per day, initially restricted to healthcare workers and nursing home populations, and subsequently expanded to other populations at alternative times (4, 5, or 6 weeks after vaccine launch) and speeds (20,000, 50,000, 100,000, or 150,000 vaccinations per day), as well as prioritization options (+/- prioritization of people age 65+ and essential workers). In sensitivity analyses, we examined the effect of a SARS-COV-2 variant with greater transmissibility.
RESULTS: To be beneficial, prioritization must not create a bottleneck that decreases vaccination speed by > 50% without a more transmissible variant, or by > 33% with the emergence of the more transmissible variant. More specifically, prioritizing people age 65+ and essential workers increased the number of lives saved per vaccine dose delivered: 3000 deaths could be averted by delivering 83,000 vaccinations per day without prioritization or 50,000 vaccinations per day with prioritization. Other tradeoffs involve vaccination speed and timing. Compared to the slowest-examined vaccination speed of 20,000 vaccinations per day, achieving the fastest-examined vaccination speed of 150,000 vaccinations per day would avert additional 313,700 (28.6%) infections and 1693 (24.1%) deaths. Emergence of a more transmissible variant would double COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths over the first 6 months of vaccination. The fastest-examined vaccination speed could only offset the harm of the more transmissible variant if achieved within 5 weeks of vaccine launch.
CONCLUSIONS: Faster vaccination speed with sooner vaccination expansion would save more lives. Prioritization of COVID-19 vaccines to higher-risk populations would be more beneficial only if it does not create an excessive vaccine delivery bottleneck.
How severe would prioritization-induced bottlenecks need to be offset the benefits from prioritizing COVID-19 vaccination to those most at risk in New York City?
BMC Public Health, 23 (1), 174. doi: 10.1186/s12889-022-14846-7. PMCID: PMC9876757.