Kitchener-Waterloo

New model helps determine who should get COVID-19 vaccine first

Researchers at University of Waterloo have developed a new model to help health officials determine which sector of the population should get COVID-19 vaccination first.

If vaccine becomes available in January, it should be given to people 60 and older, researchers say

A new model by University of Waterloo researchers can be populated with information from any province or country to decide the vaccination strategy that would prevent the most COVID-19 deaths in that population. (Anton Vaganov/Reuters)

Researchers at University of Waterloo have developed a new model to help health officials determine which sector of the population should get a COVID-19 vaccination first.

According to the model, if a vaccine becomes available in January 2021 or shortly after, it should be given to people 60 and older first since they have the highest death rate from COVID-19.

If the vaccine becomes available in the summer of 2021, the priority group changes.

The research has not yet been peer-reviewed and is being released as part of Waterloo's commitment to help inform Canada's COVID-19 response.

"When a vaccine becomes available, many people will want to be vaccinated at first and there might be supply issues, so policymakers will have to prioritize which ages should get it first," said Chris Bauch, co-author of the study and a professor in Waterloo's department of applied mathematics.

"Under those conditions, the best vaccination strategy for a specific region depends on when the vaccine becomes available, the number of people in a population who have contracted COVID-19 and are now immune and the social reaction to the virus, such as the wearing of a mask and social distancing."

The model can be populated with information from any province or country to decide the vaccination strategy that would prevent the most COVID-19 deaths in that population.

The social-epidemiological model suggests four COVID-19 vaccine strategies to prevent the most deaths from the virus:

  • Vaccinating people 60 years of age and older first.
  • Vaccinating those 20 years of age and younger first.
  • Vaccinating everybody irrespective of their age.
  • Initially target the sector of the population responsible for the most contacts.

The last three strategies interrupt transmission, while the first targets a vulnerable group.

Early access for children

Bauch told CBC News Tuesday his research shows the vaccine should first go to people who are most likely to spread the virus to others.

"In this particular context, that can mean vaccinating children because our society does place a pretty high value to a child because they have all their life ahead of them still," he said.

Chris Bauch is a professor in the University of Waterloo's department of applied mathematics. (Submitted by Pamela Smythe)

"A children's-first policy would have the highest chance of being implemented because that's something that would be more palatable to the population.

"That would not only protect the children, but it would also protect the elderly and that is perhaps a kind of win-win type of strategy," Bauch added.

The researchers also used the model to look at the particular case where people do not change their mask-wearing or social distancing behaviour over time. In that case, they found that the latter three strategies designed to interrupt transmission work better both in January and in July.

"This research exemplifies how important it is to factor human behaviour into mathematical models of the pandemic," said Madhur Anand, professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph and adjunct professor in Waterloo's department of applied mathematics.

"We all have a hand, or I should say, a mask, in this."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now