The hammer and the jab: Are COVID-19 lockdowns and vaccinations complements or substitutes

J. P. Caulkins, D. Grass, G. Feichtinger, R. F. Hartl, P. M. Kort, M. Kuhn, A. Prskawetz, M. Sanchez-Romero, A. Seidl, S. Wrzaczek

Veröffentlichungen: Beitrag in FachzeitschriftArtikelPeer Reviewed


The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated lives and economies around the world. Initially a primary response was locking down parts of the economy to reduce social interactions and, hence, the virus’ spread. After vaccines have been developed and produced in sufficient quantity, they can largely replace broad lock downs. This paper explores how lockdown policies should be varied during the year or so gap between when a vaccine is approved and when all who wish have been vaccinated. Are vaccines and lockdowns substitutes during that crucial time, in the sense that lockdowns should be reduced as vaccination rates rise? Or might they be complementary with the prospect of imminent vaccination increasing the value of stricter lockdowns, since hospitalization and death averted then may be permanently prevented, not just delayed? We investigate this question with a simple dynamic optimization model that captures both epidemiological and economic considerations. In this model, increasing the rate of vaccine deployment may increase or reduce the optimal total lockdown intensity and duration, depending on the values of other model parameters. That vaccines and lockdowns can act as either substitutes or complements even in a relatively simple model casts doubt on whether in more complicated models or the real world one should expect them to always be just one or the other. Within our model, for parameter values reflecting conditions in developed countries, the typical finding is to ease lockdown intensity gradually after substantial shares of the population have been vaccinated, but other strategies can be optimal for other parameter values. Reserving vaccines for those who have not yet been infected barely outperforms simpler strategies that ignore prior infection status. For certain parameter combinations, there are instances in which two quite different policies can perform equally well, and sometimes very small increases in vaccine capacity can tip the optimal solution to one that involves much longer and more intense lockdowns.
Seiten (von - bis)233-250
FachzeitschriftEuropean Journal of Operational Research
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - 16 Nov. 2023

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