UW researchers develop tool to equitably distribute limited vaccines

January 15, 2021

MADISON, Wis. -- The demand for COVID-19 vaccines continues to outpace supply, forcing public health officials to decide who should be first in line for a shot, even among those in the same pool of eligible vaccine recipients.

To assist these efforts, researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and UW Health have developed a tool that incorporates a person's age and socioeconomic status to prioritize vaccine distribution among people who otherwise share similar risks due to their jobs. The tool helps identify those who are at greater risk of severe complications or death from COVID-19.

UW Health has implemented the prioritization algorithm to equitably provide limited doses to frontline health care workers. Other organizations can also access the freely available tool to guide their own vaccine distribution plans.

While the UW-Madison tool was designed with the first phase of eligible recipients in mind, it could be used as vaccine distribution expands to larger populations. As the eligible population increases, the gap between initial supply and demand could grow, making such prioritization tools even more helpful.

"Knowing we're going to have limited vaccine for some time, we wanted to develop an algorithm to equitably distribute vaccinations within these risk groups," says Grace Flood, the director of clinical analytics and reporting in the Office of Population Health at UW Health, who helped lead development of the tool along with the Health Innovation Program within SMPH.

In addition to age, the algorithm uses the Social Vulnerability Index to measure a person's susceptibility to severe COVID-19 based on where they live. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed the SVI metric to help emergency responders identify which neighborhoods and towns will require the most support following natural disasters or public health emergencies.

The SVI incorporates 15 measures in four categories: socioeconomic status, housing composition and disability, minority status and language, and housing and transportation. Race and ethnicity have been closely correlated with higher COVID-19-related hospitalizations and mortality.

Flood and her team incorporated the SVI in accordance with a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that recommended using the index to fairly distribute vaccines. Because Wisconsin publishes data about COVID-19 deaths at the census-tract level, "we were able to determine the relationship for risk of mortality between age and SVI," says Flood. This relationship allowed the researchers to verify that age and SVI combined provide an accurate estimate of an individual's risk.

Since age and SVI are readily available pieces of information about an individual and each contributes to COVID-19 risk, an algorithm that incorporates both elements may serve as one of the best ways to distribute vaccines until supply catches up to demand, says Flood.

The researchers have published their algorithm in the Annals of Family Medicine COVID-19 collection and made it available for download on the project's website.
--Eric Hamilton,
(608) 263-1986,

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Related Public Health Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 and the decolonization of Indigenous public health
Indigenous self-determination, leadership and knowledge have helped protect Indigenous communities in Canada during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and these principles should be incorporated into public health in future, argue the authors of a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) http://www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.200852.

Public health consequences of policing homelessness
In a new study examining homelessness, researchers find that policy such a lifestyle has massive public health implications, making sleeping on the street even MORE unhealthy.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic likely to cause long-term health problems, Yale School of Public Health finds
The coronavirus pandemic's life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences for many people--particularly those from vulnerable populations--a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.

BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.

Read More: Public Health News and Public Health Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.