Physicists develop technique to save more lives by vaccinating fewer people

December 7, 2016, University of Aberdeen
Scientists develop technique to save more lives by vaccinating fewer people
The method uses complex data to identify people whose patterns of activity make them more likely to pass on an infection. Credit: University of Aberdeen

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen have developed a mathematical method to prevent epidemics by vaccinating fewer people than ever before.

They have hailed the – known as 'explosive immunisation' - as the fastest and most efficient way to prevent the spread of disease.

The method uses complex data sets to identify so-called 'superblockers' - typically well-connected people who move between different communities, whose patterns of activity make them more likely to pass on an infection.

By targeting them for vaccination, the proportion of those requiring treatment is dramatically decreased.

Early mathematical modelling carried out by the research team has predicted that targeting just 60% of the UK population with the MMR vaccine using their method would prevent a measles epidemic. At present over 90% of the population receive the vaccine.

The development of the method is the result of a research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the COSMOS Horizon2020 project, involving scientists from the University's School of Natural and Computing Sciences and Professor Peter Grassberger, a Leverhulme visiting scientist.

Dr Francisco Perez-Reche is part of the University research team, along with Professor Antonio Politi and Pau Clusella. The results of their work have been published in Physical Review Letters.

Dr Perez-Reche said: "It would be ideal to prevent epidemics by vaccinating as few individuals as possible. Not only would this offer a faster and more efficient solution, it would also save money and resources for agencies who might otherwise struggle to cope with an outbreak.

"In principle, this can be achieved by identifying key individuals for vaccination but it is a very challenging task in an increasingly connected world.

"Explosive immunisation ranks individuals according to their ability to block the spread of infection if vaccinated, using the wealth of complex data we now have at our disposal to identify networks of contacts.

"This data can be comprised of anything from networks of everyday encounters extracted from surveys or , to global networks that can be identified through airport passenger data.

"By utilising this data we can accurately identify superblockers who, if not vaccinated, dramatically increase the possibility of an epidemic. It is because of this sudden increase that we have called the method explosive immunisation."

Professor Politi added: "Most targeted immunisation strategies identify those who require vaccination by the number of contacts they have, but our method looks at the whole network to identify patterns of connectivity that allow us to more accurately identify who should be vaccinated.

"This, we believe, provides a faster and more efficient way of preventing epidemics than any other existing technique."

Explore further: First mathematical model to explain how things go viral

More information: Pau Clusella et al. Immunization and Targeted Destruction of Networks using Explosive Percolation, Physical Review Letters (2016). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.117.208301

Related Stories

How many children were vaccinated in 2015?

April 25, 2016

More and more children in Norway are being vaccinated and now the vast majority of children and adolescents have taken the vaccines recommended in the Childhood Immunisation Programme. This comes from the national vaccination ...

Always-deadly measles complication more common than believed

October 28, 2016

A complication of measles that kills children years after they have the infection is more common than thought, according to a study being presented at IDWeek 2016. The research underscores the vital importance of herd immunity ...

Maths model to prevent deadly disease spread

April 13, 2010

Innovative mathematical models designed to calculate which sectors of the population need vaccinating during an infectious disease outbreak could save money and lives.

Recommended for you

Researchers study interactions in molecules using AI

October 19, 2018

Researchers from the University of Luxembourg, Technische Universität Berlin, and the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society have combined machine learning and quantum mechanics to predict the dynamics and atomic ...

Pushing the extra cold frontiers of superconducting science

October 18, 2018

Measuring the properties of superconducting materials in magnetic fields at close to absolute zero temperatures is difficult, but necessary to understand their quantum properties. How cold? Lower than 0.05 Kelvin (-272°C).

The big problem of small data: A new approach

October 18, 2018

Big Data is all the rage today, but Small Data matters too! Drawing reliable conclusions from small datasets, like those from clinical trials for rare diseases or in studies of endangered species, remains one of the trickiest ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Dec 07, 2016
In my unhappy experience, MMR refusers tend not to vaccinate themselves or their family against other stuff, ranging from BCG via the 'usual suspects' to decadal pneumonia and seasonal 'flu.

Cruel irony is recent discovery that severe illness in pre-adolescence seems associated with enduring psychological problems beginning mid-teens...

not rated yet Dec 13, 2016
And by "superblockers" they mean Children in daycare.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.