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The Impact of Contact Structure and Mixing on Control Measures and Disease-Induced Herd Immunity in Epidemic Models: A Mean-Field Model Perspective

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posted on 2021-11-04, 06:40 authored by Francesco Di Lauro, Luc Berthouze, Matthew Dorey, Joel MillerJoel Miller, Istvan Kiss
The contact structure of a population plays an important role in transmission of infection. Many ‘structured models’ capture aspects of the contact pattern through an underlying network or a mixing matrix. An important observation in unstructured models of a disease that confers immunity is that once a fraction 1 - 1 / R has been infected, the residual susceptible population can no longer sustain an epidemic. A recent observation of some structured models is that this threshold can be crossed with a smaller fraction of infected individuals, because the disease acts like a targeted vaccine, preferentially immunising higher-risk individuals who play a greater role in transmission. Therefore, a limited ‘first wave’ may leave behind a residual population that cannot support a second wave once interventions are lifted. In this paper, we set out to investigate this more systematically. While networks offer a flexible framework to model contact patterns explicitly, they suffer from several shortcomings: (i) high-fidelity network models require a large amount of data which can be difficult to harvest, and (ii) very few, if any, theoretical contact network models offer the flexibility to tune different contact network properties within the same framework. Therefore, we opt to systematically analyse a number of well-known mean-field models. These are computationally efficient and provide good flexibility in varying contact network properties such as heterogeneity in the number contacts, clustering and household structure or differentiating between local and global contacts. In particular, we consider the question of herd immunity under several scenarios. When modelling interventions as changes in transmission rates, we confirm that in networks with significant degree heterogeneity, the first wave of the epidemic confers herd immunity with significantly fewer infections than equivalent models with less or no degree heterogeneity. However, if modelling the intervention as a change in the contact network, then this effect may become much more subtle. Indeed, modifying the structure disproportionately can shield highly connected nodes from becoming infected during the first wave and therefore make the second wave more substantial. We strengthen this finding by using an age-structured compartmental model parameterised with real data and comparing lockdown periods implemented either as a global scaling of the mixing matrix or age-specific structural changes. Overall, we find that results regarding (disease-induced) herd immunity levels are strongly dependent on the model, the duration of the lockdown and how the lockdown is implemented in the model.


F. Di Lauro, L. Berthouze and I.Z. Kiss acknowledge support from the Leverhulme Trust for the Research Project Grant RPG-2017-370. J.C Miller acknowledges start-up funding from La Trobe University.


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Bulletin of Mathematical Biology



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