New statewide data emphasizes urgency in ramping up administration of COVID-19 vaccines

Unless vaccination rates begin to rapidly ramp up, the number of people infected with the coronavirus each day in Florida could be eight times what it is today.

For the first time, Edwin Michael, professor of epidemiology in the USF College of Public Health, has obtained statewide forecasts of the impact of vaccine rollouts using his SEIRcast COVID-19 Forecasting and Planning portal. He had previously focused on predictions for the Tampa Bay region. Model projections show that a persistently slow rollout of the vaccine will result in a peak of 113,500 daily cases on Feb. 18 if social distancing measures that are currently in place remain the same. Current behaviors are believed to prevent 40-45% community transmission. Michael’s model shows that if there’s a 10% increase in the number of individuals who wear face masks and reduce mobility, there will be 67,000 daily cases on Feb. 13. However, if individuals take fewer precautions, there will be 172,500 daily cases by Feb. 14.

charts outlines impact of vaccines and social distancing on COVID transmission

The USF Libraries has created a digital dashboard that tracks vaccinations throughout Florida. It’s broken down by county and offers demographic information including, age, gender and race. Data is provided by the Florida Department of Health. About 650,000 people have been vaccinated, which is less than 0.05% of the population. If the rate speeds up over the next few weeks, with 1.25% of residents receiving the vaccine, Michael says the surge will still occur, peaking instead between 54,500 and 123,000 daily cases between Jan. 31 and Feb. 7. This indicates the pandemic will be contained more than a month earlier and reach herd immunity by mid-May, compared to the situation without vaccines.

“Following the upsurge in cases surrounding the holidays, we are currently in the phase of exponential growth of the pandemic,” Michael said. “Thus, despite the impending vaccines, Florida and much of the nation is in the thralls of a third wave, which has become more powerful than the summer peak.”

If half the individuals offered the vaccine refuse it, the figures will be much higher, and will prolong the pandemic, continuing to strain hospitals. This data paints the overall picture of the situation in Florida and will vary by county, depending on the rollout of the vaccine and approach to social distancing. Michael is also not taking into account potential impacts of the new variant, which is believed to be 58-70% more contagious than the most common strain.

“The takeaways from these results are clear. The vaccines will be very important for developing the population herd immunity required to end this pandemic,” Michael said. “However, we have to observe stricter social measures over the next two-three months to allow the vaccines to be delivered to sufficient numbers of the public (at least 70%) for them to do their job. Otherwise, given the exponential growth of the pandemic, the numbers requiring hospitalization will overwhelm our hospital system.”

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