Deciding who gets COVID-19 vaccines first could dictate economy's prospects too

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Who should get vaccinated first?

Generally, countries have chosen to vaccinate priority groups, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, so that they can be protected against COVID-19. In such a case, the assumption is that even if they do end up getting COVID-19, being vaccinated would lower the seriousness of the infection, and thus hospitalisation and death rates.

In parallel, the young and healthy would either get vaccinated, eventually, or contribute to overall herd immunity – which is realistic with the new variants.

Indonesia, however, chose to vaccinate the young and healthy. The reason being is that doing so will limit the spread by those deemed to be among its super-spreaders. This way, the country would not need to vaccinate everyone, especially since vaccine production and supply is not keeping up with demand for it.

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Differentiated strategies

Granted that the percentage of the population that needs to be vaccinated would depend on the efficacy of the vaccine used. The idea here is that inoculating the young could go a long way towards economic recovery and growth. Recently, Hong Kong expanded its vaccination scheme to allow those aged between 30 and 59 to get vaccinated due to lack of interest by priority groups.

It is difficult here to separate the human factor from the economic when it comes to COVID-19. This does not mean that countries have not tried to balance human costs with economic costs, evident from the multiple rounds of lockdown and varying social distancing measures. This was especially the case at the beginning of the pandemic, when the death toll in certain countries ushered in more extreme measures in other countries so as not to face the same fate.

Speed matters

Consequently, the revised economic growth projections, by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others, were based on how responsive countries were – and how quick they were in their responses.

As health sectors started coping better with the pandemic, the question of who must get vaccinated first gained more traction because of the eagerness to go back to normal and the limited vaccine availability. Subsequently, the inoculation of the young versus the elderly seemed, to whomever opted for it, as the more logical way forward.

The fact is that it needn’t be a hard choice between vaccinating the elderly, among priority groups, or the young. The approach taken by each country must take into account general characteristics of the population and what drives its economic growth, in addition to circumstances that are more specific to how COVID-19 impacted an economy and its health sector.

Tied to economy

The connection will better inform a country’s vaccination policy, striking a balance between preserving lives, while slowly, but surely, getting economic growth back on track.

To do so, and theoretically speaking, a country with a larger percentage of its population classified as young should be inclined towards vaccinating individuals who are more likely to spread the virus as they go about their daily activities. This is even more important with relatively more relaxed lockdown measures.

Meanwhile, a country with an aging population would need to look into how COVID-19 has affected its population and inoculate individuals accordingly. That is, if its aging population is at higher risk of hospitalisation and death, then priority must be given to the elderly.

This is also subject to the social characteristics of the population, i.e., whether the aging population resides within larger family homes versus in nursing homes and in senior communities.

Vulnerable first

A more balanced population breakdown would warrant a balanced vaccination approach, whereby the most vulnerable among priority groups will get the vaccine, even when age does not justify it. Or this means that it makes more sense to vaccinate those around the elderly population, including those in nursing homes, instead of inoculating the elderly with emergency-use vaccines.

More so as there has been different reactions to being inoculated by such vaccines, like what happened in Norwegian care homes.

To summarise, each country has its own unique characteristics when looking at its general and COVID-19-related characteristics. Based on that, and how a country perceives the importance of its economic recovery when balanced with everything else, a vaccination policy can be designed and carried out.

Trying to manage between not overburdening the health sector and not choking off economic growth is nothing if not tricky and hard to attain.

The last thought that I want to leave you with: What vaccination formula could bring about speedier economic recovery?

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