The Vulnerable versus the Super-spreader

IF YOU NEVER READ ANYTHING OF MINE THAT I HAVE SENT OUT, READ THIS. If you ever read anything of mine, read this.

Why the Socially Promiscuous Should be Vaccinated before the Most Vulnerable

This article is drawn directly from Christopher Fox’s long piece entitled, “The Vulnerable Can Wait. Vaccinate the Super-spreaders First” for WIRED. If you have time, go directly to that article and read it at:

I expected that front line workers would get the vaccine first followed by the elderly like myself. However, I am a philosopher who believes that reason trumps (in the old sense) dispositions to believe when the two contradict one another. Falsification theory is central to who I am. This article falsified what I believed. Though I have read widely on the COVID-19 pandemic, most of what I read was on the historical pattern by which the disease spread and the practical methods that limited that spread – masks, distancing, contact monitoring, isolation. This without a doubt is the best article I have read for it not only provided a theory to explain conclusions, but gave me a principle of triage for distributing the vaccines that was counterintuitive to what I believed.

I summarize simply by providing a terminology list.

  1. A Super-spreader – someone with many contacts in many places in different social situations. Eliminate one or even two of these factors of contact and we have:
  2. A Spreader
  3. Non-spreader – perhaps 69%— do not spread the disease to anyone but may get infected, remain asymptomatic or fall sick, recover or die. 
  4. A Vulnerable Person – ranked by degree of vulnerability:

1) potential to catch the disease; 2) potential to get very sick from it; 3) potential to die from it. Hence the concern with the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions, particularly respiratory ones.

  • Contact Persons – number of interactions of one person with others;     Contact Places – number of points of contact in different settings.
  • The 80/20 rule – 80% of cases are traced back to 20% of the population.
  • Network – a series of points in contact with one another.
  • Hubs – dominate connectivity in networks to a vast degree.
  • Targeted immunization – the most vulnerable or the greatest spreaders.
  • 16% Rule – protect a whole system by immunizing as little as 16% of the population by starting with the most highly connected people.
  • Havlin’s Law – named after Shlomo Havlin, a physicist at Bar-Ilan University – deals with “Efficient Immunization Strategies for Computer Networks and Populations,” – Use local knowledge to find hubs in a complex network. How? A) By asking random individuals in a network.
  • Not the most efficient; “Phase Transition Immunization – vaccinate 10-20% by focusing on spreaders.
  • Friendship Paradox – on average, your friends have more friends than you do – choose a friend, any friend, for immunization and you will soon reach the greatest number of spreaders, the most connected people.
  • From the point of view of collective rather than individual ethics, inoculate the frat brat before the vulnerable older person.
  • Combine vulnerable with network immunization by vaccinating the most vulnerable first and the rest by using network statistics.
  • Survey immunization – contrasted with acquaintance immunization – identify people with the greatest connectivity.

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