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Investigating associations between COVID-19 mortality and population-level health and socioeconomic indicators in the United States: A modeling study

Kandula, Sasikiran; Shaman, Jeffrey L.

Background: With the availability of multiple Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines and the predicted shortages in supply for the near future, it is necessary to allocate vaccines in a manner that minimizes severe outcomes, particularly deaths. To date, vaccination strategies in the United States have focused on individual characteristics such as age and occupation. Here, we assess the utility of population-level health and socioeconomic indicators as additional criteria for geographical allocation of vaccines.

Methods and findings: County-level estimates of 14 indicators associated with COVID-19 mortality were extracted from public data sources. Effect estimates of the individual indicators were calculated with univariate models. Presence of spatial autocorrelation was established using Moran's I statistic. Spatial simultaneous autoregressive (SAR) models that account for spatial autocorrelation in response and predictors were used to assess (i) the proportion of variance in county-level COVID-19 mortality that can explained by identified health/socioeconomic indicators (R2); and (ii) effect estimates of each predictor. Adjusting for case rates, the selected indicators individually explain 24%-29% of the variability in mortality. Prevalence of chronic kidney disease and proportion of population residing in nursing homes have the highest R2. Mortality is estimated to increase by 43 per thousand residents (95% CI: 37-49; p < 0.001) with a 1% increase in the prevalence of chronic kidney disease and by 39 deaths per thousand (95% CI: 34-44; p < 0.001) with 1% increase in population living in nursing homes. SAR models using multiple health/socioeconomic indicators explain 43% of the variability in COVID-19 mortality in US counties, adjusting for case rates. R2 was found to be not sensitive to the choice of SAR model form. Study limitations include the use of mortality rates that are not age standardized, a spatial adjacency matrix that does not capture human flows among counties, and insufficient accounting for interaction among predictors.

Conclusions: Significant spatial autocorrelation exists in COVID-19 mortality in the US, and population health/socioeconomic indicators account for a considerable variability in county-level mortality. In the context of vaccine rollout in the US and globally, national and subnational estimates of burden of disease could inform optimal geographical allocation of vaccines.

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Academic Units
Environmental Health Sciences
Published Here
August 12, 2021