Blacksburg, VA, USA – When vaccines are in short supply, public health officials must decide who among the public should be protected against disease – a decision that can hold moral and ethical implications. In order to avoid such concerns, objective methods should be put in place.

Researchers at Virginia Tech devised a general framework that will provide objective ways of measuring the efficiency and fairness of public health intervention policies. To test the framework, the researchers simulated a number of vaccine strategies on a synthetic population representative of Montgomery County, Virginia, for an influenza-like outbreak. An SEIR (Susceptible, Exposed, Infected and Recovered) model was used to represent the progression of health states within the host. Many different axioms of fairness were considered to ensure coverage of realistic policy options. The results of the study showed that giving priority to the youngest members of large families leads to a better outcome when containing the spread of influenza.

“Efficiency may not always be the 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,” says Achla Marathe, PhD, Professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech, and author of the study.

“To achieve an objective public health plan, it is important to consider both fairness and efficiency of intervention policies,” says Molly O’Dell, MD, Director of the New River Health District at the Virginia Department of Health, and Adjunct Professor of Population Health sciences at Virginia Tech.

The full study, “Fairness versus Efficiency of Vaccine Allocation Strategies,” is published in Value in Health.

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