How to model the impact of vaccines for policymaking when the characteristics are uncertain: A case study in Thailand prior to the vaccine rollout during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Luangasanatip N., Painter C., Pan-Ngum W., Saralamba S., Wichaita T., White L., Aguas R., Clapham H., Wang Y., Isaranuwatchai W., Teerawattananon Y.
Thailand faced a dilemma of which groups to prioritise with a limited first tranche of COVID-19 vaccinations in early 2021, at a time when there was low incidence and low mortality in the country. A mathematical modelling analysis was performed to compare the potential short-term impact of allocating the available doses to either the high severity group (over 65-year-olds) or the high transmission group (aged 20-39). At the time of the analysis, there was uncertainty about the precise characteristics of the vaccines available, in terms of their potential impact on transmission and reductions to the severity of infection. As such, a range of vaccine characteristic scenarios, with differing levels of severity and transmission reductions were explored. Using the evidence available at the time regarding severity reduction of infection due to the vaccines, the model suggested that vaccinating high severity group should be the priority if reductions in deaths is the priority. Vaccinating this group was found to have a direct impact on reducing the number of deaths, while the incidence and hospitalisations remained unchanged. However, the model found that vaccinating the high transmission group with a vaccine with sufficiently high protection against infection (more than 70%) could provide enough herd effects to delay the expected epidemic peak, resulting in both case and death reductions in both target groups. The model explored a 12-month time horizon. These analyses helped to inform the vaccination strategy in Thailand throughout 2021 and can inform future modelling studies for policymaking when the characteristics of vaccines are uncertain.