Should the COVID vaccine go to the vulnerable first, or to super spreaders?

Nov 13, 2020, 1:35 PM
vaccine, super spreaders...
Barbara Corral, a Nurse Practitioner, conducts a physical on Lisa Taylor as she participates in a COVID-19 vaccination study at Research Centers of America on Aug. 07, 2020, in Hollywood, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Health and Human Services have previously discussed that when a COVID-19 vaccine is available, it would go to the most vulnerable people first, including those in nursing homes, then frontline workers, and then to the general public. But what if there’s a more effective way to distribute the vaccine and stop the spread?

Local association worried about staff shortages at Washington hospitals

There’s an article on Wired that discusses the idea of giving the vaccine to super spreaders first, rather than giving it to older or more vulnerable populations.

“A bunch of people, top notch scientists with the CDC and WHO, World Health Organization, they haven’t come up with any final plan yet, but right now the tendency is not to do the obvious,” Tom Tangney explained, adding that the obvious is giving it to the most vulnerable. “They think maybe the most effective would be to go to the super spreaders. In other words, the people that are most … likely to spread it.”

Findings have shown, in all the outbreaks across the country and the world, it’s about 20% of people who are causing 80% of the cases, Tangney said.

“So the key is to stop the super spreaders. Stop super spreading events, of course, but also stop the super spreader, and that would be more effective,” he added.

It raises moral qualms, of course, and plenty of ethical questions, but the first challenge would be figuring out how to determine who qualifies as a “super spreader.”

The idea is that you talk to 10,000 people and determine the 150 names of people that keep coming up. Those 150 people are the super spreaders.

“Now, it’s certainly not airtight. It’s just a general hunch, and you may give it to people that don’t really need it because there are people that are very social and see a lot of people and don’t give it to people,” Tangney said. “So they’re not quite sure why that is, but still, in general, they’ll say that that would be a more effective way to stop the spread.”

The counter to this, Tangney continued, is that it’s a theoretical model that we don’t know if it would really work in real-life situations. The other side argues that it seems more certain to give it to the people who are facing death, in effect, rather than the people who have a better chance of catching and surviving this virus, as the majority of people do.

“Give it to the people that are absolutely most vulnerable because that’s a sure thing,” Tangney said, explaining the other side of the coin. “Rather than say, well, … this theoretical model says we don’t save the 85-year-old, we’ll give it to these hundred 58-year olds and hopefully that will stop the spread. So that’s the balance that’s being kicked around.”

John Curley suggests using phone data to help find the super-spreaders.

“The other way to track him down is you could use cell phone data be able to find super spreaders and the people that are congregating, moving around the most, and in other groups, they can track it and ping it and say, ‘OK, there’s a guy whose phone — that guy goes from here to here to here to here to here. He’s in this group, this group, this group,’ and then you’ll be able to track the data,” he said.

With Regal closing and delays, it’s as if 2020 didn’t exist for movies

The other problem though, as Curley points out, is that it’s been estimated that there are many more cases of COVID-19 than we know of now, which makes the spread all the more difficult to track.

“So if there’s 100 million people that have it, have had it, have it now, … gotten over it, that changes all the dynamics,” he said. “And then there’s far more people that are out there with this disease, then you wouldn’t be able to control it.”

“The problem is that [contact tracing is] no longer effective if it gets too big, too many of us have already have it, then contact tracing is irrelevant,” Tangney added, because then nearly everyone you talk to would have had it or would be in contact with someone who has been infected.

Read the full article from Wired that Tom & Curley reference online here.

Tom and Curley on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM
  • listen to tom and curleyTune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 3pm for The Tom and Curley Show.

Tom and Curley Show

Tom and Curley

Last Duel...
Tom Tangney

Poor Marguerite’s story saves ‘The Last Duel’

Tom Tangney says, ultimately, The Last Duel is a proto-feminist take on the Middle Ages with Marguerite's take that brings the film into focus.
10 days ago
James Bond...
Tom Tangney

Daniel Craig’s final James Bond movie comes full-circle

The 25th installment in the James Bond movie franchise may be titled "No Time to Die," but "Too Much Time to Die" may be more fitting.
18 days ago
Tom and Curley Show

Kraken CEO: Climate Pledge Arena is the ‘most beautiful arena in the world’

Tod Leiweke, CEO of the Kraken, told KIRO Radio's Tom & Curley Show about what fans can expect for the upcoming season and at the new arena.
19 days ago
segregation, homeless affordable housing, apartments, housing...
Tom and Curley Show

Rep for landlords says Seattle needs to focus on ‘real solutions’ to fix housing crisis

Brett Waller, director of government affairs for the Washington Multifamily Housing Association, explains the recent housing bills in Seattle.
27 days ago
Tom and Curley Show

Tom & Curley Show interrupted by a squirrel

In the middle of reading letters from listeners on Monday, John Curley was interrupted by his dogs bringing a squirrel inside his cabin.
1 month ago
Jay Inslee, pause, reopening, vaccine order...
Tom and Curley Show

Not much point in suing over Inslee’s vaccine order, says former state Attorney General

The vaccine order from Gov. Inslee for state workers stands on pretty firm legal ground, according to former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna.
3 months ago

Sponsored Articles


Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Should the COVID vaccine go to the vulnerable first, or to super spreaders?