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The Coloradans who helped shape global COVID-19 policy

Researchers from CU Boulder and their passion for math helped shape global policy when it comes to distributing the COVID-19 vaccine

DENVER — Researchers from CU Boulder and their passion for math helped shape global policy when it comes to distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. 

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Here is a part of our conversation with Assistant Professor Dan Larremore. 

(Editor's Note: Responses may have been edited for context and clarity)

9NEWS: What did the research focus on? 

Larremore: The research was meant to simulate and model different scenarios for the vaccine distribution. That included looking at different age groups, who they come in contact with and different demographics in different countries. 

We would take specifics demographics of different parts of countries or different countries around the world and we involved those in the simulations to come up with a custom result, lets say for Belgium versus the United Kingdom versus the United States.

The study's finding might seem like common knowledge these days but it was these CU Boulder researchers who helped come up with the data. 

If you want to minimize deaths you should really prioritize those adults who are over 60 and most vulnerable. I want to add one thing though, which is that the specific scenarios we were thinking about is how should you prioritize the vaccines after the front line workers get the first doses."


Why look into these scenarios? 

Larremore: The conversation around vaccine distributions started months ago. The modeling helped since there were multiple scenarios to work through. 

One option is you give the vaccine to the people most vulnerable and protect them directly. Another approach that also makes a lot of sense, you should give the vaccine to those most responsible for the onward transmission because if you can break that backbone of transmission then everybody gets protected. When you have two different theories that make a lot of sense at face value that's where the modeling really comes in. It helps you decide given that both are common sense approaches.

Who used the research findings? 

Larremore: The research was shared with a couple of different organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) over the summer. 

WHO came up with a plan to equitably distribute the vaccine called COVAX, for participating countries. At this point the U.S is not among them. But, their simulations helped countries asking how to prioritize vaccine distribution. 

Our contribution in that discussion was really to show the prioritizations of older adults is something that is robust across countries and something all countries should be thinking about.

If we had enough vaccine to cover 20% of New York's population and prioritize that to adults 60 plus we would bring down mortality, we estimate, by around 75%.

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Larremore said applied math Ph.D. student Kate Bubar did the heavy lifting on this research but wasn't able to join in on the interview Friday morning because she was taking a final exam.

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