US-based researchers develop tool to aid equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines

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  • With Covid-19 vaccines in short supply, governments worldwide are having to prioritise the distribution of vaccines 
  • An algorithm was developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that can be used to equitably distribute vaccines
  • The tool makes use of the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) to prioritise vaccine distribution among healthcare workers


As countries worldwide race to secure and administer Covid-19 vaccines, governments have needed to devise vaccination distribution plans to ensure that those most in need receive their vaccinations first. 

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health and UW Health have developed an algorithm that can assist governments with the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines among healthcare workers. 

The algorithm has since been published for public use in the Annals of Family Medicine and incorporates an individual’s age and socio-economic status to help prioritise vaccine distribution among frontline healthcare workers, according to the researchers. 

Furthermore, the study explains that the algorithm estimates the relationship between race/ethnicity, age and job-risk exposure on the risk of mortality due to Covid-19 by using the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI). 

The SVI explained 

The SVI was developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to assist emergency responders identify the most vulnerable geographic areas in the event of a natural disaster or public health emergency. 

Among the four categories and 15 measures incorporated within the SVI are socio-economic status, disability, minority status and housing composition. 

Thus, the SVI can assist health officials to measure an individual’s risk of severe Covid-19 based on “locations identified as vulnerable”, according to the researchers. 

How does the algorithm work? 

The tool is available for download from the HIPxChange website and calculates Covid-19 vaccination prioritisation from SVI and age on Microsoft Excel, the website says. 

Organisations interested in using the tool will need information about their staff’s age and SVI. According to the HIPxChange website, an individual’s SVI can be gathered by geocoding their address to the corresponding census tract and assigning that value to Excel. 

The age and SVI value of the individual must be entered into Excel, and the higher the value, the higher the priority of the individual for receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. 

Future applications 

Although the algorithm was designed to equitably distribute vaccines to healthcare workers, the researchers state that the tool could be expanded to larger populations and include more variables. 

“Future work will include extending this methodology to patients by adding risk of mortality based upon comorbidities to the model,” the researchers conclude.

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