Australian researchers launch COVID-19 risk calculator

A COVID-19 risk calculator that allows people to assess their chances of catching the pandemic virus and dying from it, based on their age, gender, vaccination status, and community spread, has launched today.

University of Queensland virologist Kirsty Short said the online tool was designed to help people make informed decisions around COVID-19 vaccination given their personal circumstances and to gauge their likelihood of infection based on different transmission scenarios.

“You can find out your chance of being infected with COVID-19 versus your chance of dying from the disease,” Dr Short said.

“You can also find out your chance of developing an atypical blood clot from the AstraZeneca vaccine and see this data in the context of other relatable risks – like getting struck by lightning or winning OzLotto.”

The CoRiCal project is a collaboration between the Immunisation Coalition, University of Queensland, Flinders University, La Trobe University and Queensland University of Technology.

It included input from general practitioners, medical scientists, public health physicians, epidemiologists and statisticians.

Calculator in the pilot stage

Dr Short, one of the research leaders who developed CoRiCal, said it was still in its pilot stage, giving a risk-benefit assessment based only on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Dr Kirsty Short
Dr Short said the researchers planned to update the calculator to account for a person’s pre-existing medication conditions. (Supplied: University of Queensland)

The tool will be continuously updated in line with the latest health and scientific evidence, including risk calculations for the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, which will be added in the coming weeks.

Both mRNA COVID vaccines have been linked to small numbers of cases of pericarditis and myocarditis – inflammation of different parts of the heart.

Dr Short said the researchers planned to update the calculator to account for a person’s pre-existing medication conditions, such as obesity and diabetes – both known susceptibility risk factors for developing severe COVID-19.

Eventually, the hope is that the tool will also assess a person’s chances of developing long COVID – when patients have long-term symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain and brain fog.

“I think this is a really important consideration that people need to make, especially for younger individuals who may not be at high risk of dying if they get COVID-19, but long COVID is a real threat and it’s not something that anyone wants to have,” Dr Short said.

“We’re waiting a little bit until we get more reliable data but … I think it’s an important feature of the calculator, especially for younger individuals.”

Saves ‘having to work it out’ yourself

UQ professor of infectious disease epidemiology Colleen Lau, who was involved in developing the modelling framework for the calculator, said it presented the risk-benefit analysis in a simple and interactive way, saving people “from having to work it out themselves”.

“You enter your age, your sex, the number of vaccine doses you’ve had and the level of community transmission,” she said.

“It will calculate your risks of side-effects from the vaccine versus your risks of getting, or dying, from COVID if you didn’t get vaccinated.”

Professor Lau, from UQ’s School of Public Health, said even though Queensland had been relatively free of community transmission during the pandemic, this would not last once borders reopened to NSW, Victoria, ACT, and the world.

“It’s not possible to sustain zero transmission forever,” she said.

“The decision on vaccination should not be based on the fact that there’s no transmission now, it should be based on the fact that we’re expecting to have transmission in weeks or months to come.

“And it takes time for vaccines to work, so the sooner we get vaccinated, the better.”

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