Shortening the duration of COVID-19 infection by just one day could prevent millions of cases.


The potential benefit of finding ways to shorten the time of infection is illustrated by simulations.

A recent computer study indicates that a vaccine or medication that could shorten the duration of infection with COVID-19 could potentially prevent millions of cases and save billions of dollars.

The study was led by Bruce Lee and colleagues from the Public Health Informatics, Technical, and Operations Research (PHICOR) team, based at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy and the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center Lundquist Research Institute, and was published in the PLOS Computational Biology open-access journal.

While much of the public discourse on vaccines and drugs for COVID-19 has centered on infection prevention or cure, the new vaccines and drugs could have more subtle effects.

Many who do not actually avoid or cure the duration of infection will still decrease.

Lee and colleagues developed a computer model that simulates the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to explain the possible importance of shortening infection period.

They used the model to analyze how the clinical and economic effects of the disease could be alleviated by a vaccine or treatment that could shorten the duration of infection.

The simulations indicate that shortening the infection time by half a day might avoid up to 1.4 million cases and more than 99,000 hospitalizations, saving direct medical and indirect costs of $209.5 billion-even though only a quarter of people with symptoms were treated-taking into account optimistic estimates of how infectious the virus is. In the same conditions, by reducing the duration of infection by 3.5 days, up to 7.4 million cases could be avoided.

Extending such care to 75 percent of all infected individuals could avoid and save $856 billion from 29.7 million cases.

These results may help guide research and investment into the production of vaccines or drugs that decrease SARS-CoV-2 infection time.

They may also assist government departments to prepare for the implementation of such goods and provide cost insights to guide third-party payers with reimbursement policies.

“There may be a tendency to overlook vaccines and other treatments that do not prevent COVID-19 infection or cure the disease,” Lee says. “But this study has shown that even relatively small changes in the duration of infection can significantly affect the transmission and spread of the virus, saving billions of dollars and preventing millions of new cases.”

“This study shows that when developing vaccines and drugs against COVID-19, we should focus on the impact to actually curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, not just the benefit to an individual patient,” said James McKinnell, a co-author of the study. “Widespread treatment, in combination with other preventive measures, may prove to be the game changer.”

Reference: Lee BY, Bartsch SM, Ferguson MC, Wedlock PT, O’Shea KJ, Siegmund SS, et al (2020), January 7, 2021, PLOS Computational Biology, ‘The importance of decreasing the length of the infectious cycle of extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection.’

10.1371/journal.pcbi.1008470 DOI:
Funding: This work was partly funded by the Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy (BYL, SMB, MCF, PTW, KJO, SSS, SNC), the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the City University of New York (CUNY) as part of the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Research (MIDAS) network under Grant 1 R01 GM127512-01A1 (BYL, SMB, MCF, PTW, KJO, SSS, SNC).

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) under grant R01HS023317 (BYL, SMB, MCF, PTW, KJO, SSS, SNC), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under contract number AID-OAA-A-15-00064 (BYL, SMB, MCF, PTW, KJO, SSS, SNC) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) of Eunice Kennedy Shriver were also funded through grants U01HD0866 (BYL, SMB, MCF, PTW, KJO, SSS, SNC).

The funders had no impact on the design of the report, the collection and analysis of data, the decision to publish, or the manuscript preparation.

Its material, including data analysis, is the responsibility of the authors of this manuscript. In the manuscript, comments


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