We present a comparative analysis of two classes of suggested vaccination strategies: mortality-based strategies that target high-risk populations and morbidity-based strategies that target high-prevalence populations. Applying the methods of contact network epidemiology to a model of disease transmission in a large urban population, we assume that vaccine supplies are limited and then evaluate the efficacy of these strategies across a wide range of viral transmission rates and for two different age-specific mortality distributions. We find that the optimal strategy depends critically on the viral transmission level (reproductive rate) of the virus: morbidity-based strategies outperform mortality-based strategies for moderately transmissible strains, while the reverse is true for highly transmissible strains. These results hold for a range of mortality rates reported for prior influenza epidemics and pandemics. Furthermore, we show that vaccination delays and multiple introductions of disease into the community have a more detrimental impact on morbidity-based strategies than mortality-based strategies.
The threat of avian influenza and the 2004-2005 influenza vaccine supply shortage in the United States have sparked a debate about optimal vaccination strategies to reduce the burden of morbidity and mortality caused by the influenza virus.
If public health officials have reasonable estimates of the viral transmission rate and the frequency of new introductions into the community prior to an outbreak, then these methods can guide the design of optimal vaccination priorities. When such information is unreliable or not available, as is often the case, this study recommends mortality-based vaccination priorities.