Modeling Study Makes Case for Vaccinating Essential Workers First

By Reuters Staff

October 14, 2021

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - When COVID-19 vaccine supplies are limited, vaccinating essential workers before older adults has benefits for all, according to a modeling study.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted essential workers, who often have lower incomes and no option to work from home," Dr. Paul Tupper, professor and director of the cognitive science program at Simon Fraser University, in Burnaby, Canada, said in a news release.

"Our findings suggest that prioritizing them for vaccination not only would help to reduce this substantial disparity, but it does not even come at the cost of increased adverse outcomes in others; rather, it is better for everyone," said Dr. Tupper.

The researchers modeled the impact of different COVID-19 vaccination strategies in British Columbia. The strategies varied as to whether or not vaccines were distributed by age group, and whether or not essential workers were given priority vaccination. All strategies prioritized adults 80 years and older for vaccination.

Across a range of scenarios for COVID-19 transmission and vaccine efficacy, vaccinating essential workers earlier yielded large reductions in infections, hospitalizations, deaths, and cases of long COVID, the researchers report in PLoS Global Public Health.

They calculate that in a simulated region a population of 5 million, limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine and vaccine rollout is prolonged over several months, vaccinating essential workers sooner would prevent more than 200,000 infections, more than 600 deaths, and yield a net monetary benefit of more than $500 million in U.S. dollars.

Several Canadian provinces have adopted vaccine strategies that explicitly target high-contact workers and also reserved first doses for younger adults ahead of second doses for older adults.

"Although it is difficult to assess the impact of vaccination strategies alone, since there are many additional factors affecting infection and mortality rates, our findings suggest that these vaccination strategies were key to the sustained and rapid decline in COVID-19 cases across Canada in late Spring-Summer, 2021," Dr. Tupper and colleagues say.

They note that at the time of publication of their paper, COVID-19 cases and deaths across Canada remain low, even following significant re-opening and emergence of highly transmissible variants.

The study had no commercial funding and the authors have declared no relevant conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: PLoS Global Public Health, online October 13, 2021.