BLACKSBURG, Va., April 30, 2015 – Public health officials are faced with a tough decision when vaccines are in short supply during an outbreak. How do they objectively decide who should be protected against disease?
To address these ethical and moral concerns, researchers at Virginia Tech devised a general framework that will provide ways of measuring the efficiency and fairness of public health intervention policies. Their results show that giving priority to the youngest members of large families leads to a better outcome when containing the spread of influenza.
To test their framework, they simulated a number of vaccine strategies on a synthetic population representative of Montgomery County, Virginia, during an influenza-like outbreak using an agent-based epidemic simulation tool called EpiFast.
“Efficiency may not always be the be-all, end-all strategy when it comes to designing effective vaccine allocation. Fairness can play an important role when distributing medical resources, but up until now this measure of fairness has been rather subjective,” said Achla Marathe, professor of agricultural and applied economics at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, and lead author of the study.
The full study, “Fairness versus Efficiency of Vaccine Allocation Strategies,” is published in Value in Health. Researchers measured their framework on a variety of factors including age and income. They found that considering vaccine distribution on the basis of individual conditions, such as age alone, could lead to higher disease prevalence.
"To achieve an objective public health plan, it is important to consider both fairness and efficiency of intervention policies," said Molly O'Dell, director of the New River Health District at the Virginia Department of Health, and also an adjunct professor of population health sciences at Virginia Tech.
Ming Yi, an economics doctoral graduate of Virginia Tech and assistant professor of economics at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, also contributed to the study.
The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the US or Chinese governments.
Written by Maureen Lawrence-Kuether.