Coordination of Vaccination and Social Distancing - Vaccinate the People with the Highest Contact Rates First

How to Mitigate SARS-CoV-2-Outbreaks with Mathematical Optimization

July 14, 2021
Symbolic picture for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most countries worldwide have started vaccinating people against COVID-19 as a countermeasure against the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. However, due to limited production capacities and logistical challenges it will take months to years until herd immunity is achieved. Therefore, vaccination and social distancing have still to be coordinated, also taking into account new strains of the virus, which are emerging, or further pandemic waves.

A team of scientists around Dr. Sara Grundel at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems Magdeburg and around Prof. Dr. Thomas Hotz and Prof. Dr. Karl Worthmann at Technische Universität Ilmenau gained some more insight using optimization-based control on an age-differentiated compartmental model. For real-life decision-making, they investigated the impact of the planning horizon on the optimal strategy considering vaccination and social distancing.

The scientists from Magdeburg and Ilmenau found out, that, in order to reduce social distancing in the long run, without overburdening the health care system, it is essential to vaccinate the people with the highest contact rates first: the people aged between 20 and 60. That is also the case if the objective is to minimize fatalities provided that the social distancing measures are sufficiently strict. However, for short-term planning it is optimal to focus on the high-risk group.

In their study, which has been published in the SIAM Journal on Applied Dynamical Systems, the scientists made use of compartmental models consisting of difference or differential equations, which are a prevailing methodology for epidemiological modeling, combined with optimal control of such models.

Original Publication

Grundel, S.; Heyder, S.; Hotz, T.; Ritschel, T. K.S.; Sauerteig, P.; Worthmann, K.: How to coordinate Vaccination and Social Distancing to mitigate SARS-CoV-2 Outbreaks. SIAM journal on applied dynamical systems 20 (2), pp. 1135 - 1157 (2021)
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