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Influenza vaccination is vital for reducing H1N1 infection-mediated morbidity and mortality. To reduce transmission and achieve herd immunity during the initial 2009-2010 pandemic season, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that initial priority for H1N1 vaccines be given to individuals under age 25, as these individuals are more likely to spread influenza than older adults. However, due to significant delay in vaccine delivery for the H1N1 influenza pandemic, a large fraction of population was exposed to the H1N1 virus and thereby obtained immunity prior to the wide availability of vaccines. This exposure affects the spread of the disease and needs to be considered when prioritizing vaccine distribution.
To determine optimal H1N1 vaccine distributions based on individual self-interest versus population interest, we constructed a game theoretical age-structured model of influenza transmission and considered the impact of delayed vaccination.
Our results indicate that if individuals decide to vaccinate according to self-interest, the resulting optimal vaccination strategy would prioritize adults of age 25 to 49 followed by either preschool-age children before the pandemic peak or older adults (age 50-64) at the pandemic peak. In contrast, the vaccine allocation strategy that is optimal for the population as a whole would prioritize individuals of ages 5 to 64 to curb a growing pandemic regardless of the timing of the vaccination program.
Our results indicate that for a delayed vaccine distribution, the priorities that are optimal at a population level do not align with those that are optimal according to individual self-interest. Moreover, the discordance between the optimal vaccine distributions based on individual self-interest and those based on population interest is even more pronounced when vaccine availability is delayed. To determine optimal vaccine allocation for pandemic influenza, public health agencies need to consider both the changes in infection risks among age groups and expected patterns of adherence.