Introduction The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic has exposed health disparities throughout the USA, particularly among racial and ethnic minorities. As a result, there is a need for data-driven approaches to pinpoint the unique constellation of clinical and social determinants of health (SDOH) risk factors that give rise to poor patient outcomes following infection in US communities.
Methods We combined county-level COVID-19 testing data, COVID-19 vaccination rates and SDOH information in Tennessee. Between February and May 2021, we trained machine learning models on a semimonthly basis using these datasets to predict COVID-19 incidence in Tennessee counties. We then analyzed SDOH data features at each time point to rank the impact of each feature on model performance.
Results Our results indicate that COVID-19 vaccination rates play a crucial role in determining future COVID-19 disease risk. Beginning in mid-March 2021, higher vaccination rates significantly correlated with lower COVID-19 case growth predictions. Further, as the relative importance of COVID-19 vaccination data features grew, demographic SDOH features such as age, race and ethnicity decreased while the impact of socioeconomic and environmental factors, including access to healthcare and transportation, increased.
Conclusion Incorporating a data framework to track the evolving patterns of community-level SDOH risk factors could provide policy-makers with additional data resources to improve health equity and resilience to future public health emergencies.