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Small increases in vaccine cost can cause large gaps in protection
Date:7/29/2010

ived costs cuts both ways, meaning it's easy to get a population back on track with voluntary immunizations in the wake of an outbreak.

The Harvard team found epidemics are amplified when individuals mimic others in their social network, such as by avoiding immunizations during vaccine scares. Behavior driven by "strong imitation" -- reliance on anecdotal information from social contacts in deciding whether or not to immunize -- could cause up to a 14 percent decline in vaccination rates, and a four-fold increase in the size of a flulike epidemic.

"It's possible to be too clever for your own good in dealing with risk," Fu says. "These 'strong imitators' chase unwise risks, and their behavior exacerbates the fragility of herd immunity, causing it to break down more easily. Those in our model who ignored friends' outcomes and stuck with their own decision ended up better off, on average."

Fu, Rosenbloom, and Nowak's modeling also showed that in an epidemic, individuals who are hubs in a social network are likelier to choose vaccination than their less connected peers. However, this outcome emerges primarily from self-interested behavior -- the desire to avoid sickness -- rather than altruistic behavior to protect friends and family.

"Altruistic behavior could certainly lead to increased vaccination of hubs, but we find that it's not required -- self-interested behavior suffices," Rosenbloom says.

This work builds upon the tradition of evolutionary game theory, where researchers construct simple mathematical models to explore human behavior in social dilemmas and scenarios where people can cooperate for the common good. While this study specifically modeled influenza, the results apply to a wide variety of diseases, and are consistent with data from past epidemics.


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Contact: Steve Bradt
steve_bradt@harvard.edu
617-496-8070
Harvard University
Source:Eurekalert

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