Targeted vaccination and the speed of SARS-CoV-2 adaptation

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 Jan 18;119(3):e2110666119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2110666119.


The limited supply of vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) raises the question of targeted vaccination. Many countries have opted to vaccinate older and more sensitive hosts first to minimize the disease burden. However, what are the evolutionary consequences of targeted vaccination? We clarify the consequences of different vaccination strategies through the analysis of the speed of viral adaptation measured as the rate of change of the frequency of a vaccine-adapted variant. We show that such a variant is expected to spread faster if vaccination targets individuals who are likely to be involved in a higher number of contacts. We also discuss the pros and cons of dose-sparing strategies. Because delaying the second dose increases the proportion of the population vaccinated with a single dose, this strategy can both speed up the spread of the vaccine-adapted variant and reduce the cumulative number of deaths. Hence, strategies that are most effective at slowing viral adaptation may not always be epidemiologically optimal. A careful assessment of both the epidemiological and evolutionary consequences of alternative vaccination strategies is required to determine which individuals should be vaccinated first.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; adaptation; evolutionary epidemiology; vaccination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • COVID-19 Vaccines / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification
  • Vaccination / methods*


  • COVID-19 Vaccines