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“ The pandemic is a prisoner’s dilemma game ”

She noted, however, that game theory assumes that people are rational in their decision-making. Fear can suppress vaccination “at precarious levels insufficient to prevent the spread of an epidemic,” she said.

A 2019 survey using game theory to study vaccination showed that vaccine reluctance could be explained by a mathematical mechanism called ‘hysteresis’. In general terms, hysteresis occurs when the effects of a force persist even after the force is removed – the response is late. Paper clips exposed to a magnetic field always cling together after the field turns off; unemployment rates can remain high even in a recovering economy.

Likewise, even after a vaccine is found to be safe and effective, uptake rates often remain low.

“The hysteresis effect makes the population hysterical, or sensitive, to the perceived risks of the vaccine,” said Xingru Chen, a PhD student in mathematics at Dartmouth College, and co-author of the article, with his advisor Feng Fu, a mathematician. and Biomedical Data Scientist (who recently applied a similar approach to the social distancing dilemma).

“It comes down to a fundamental problem known as the tragedy of the commons,” Ms. Chen said. “There is a misalignment of individual interests and societal interests.” To overcome the hysteresis effect, she said, vaccination should be promoted as an act of altruism – a personal contribution to the fight against the pandemic.

A later iteration of the coronavirus game theory study explored how vaccine adherence affects the number of deaths averted. If a small subset of the population chooses not to be vaccinated, it affects us all, said Dr Anand, who is also an author and poet. His book “A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes” includes found poems composed of words taken from his scientific papers.

(A poem, “The Strategy of the Majority,” was taken from his first article on human-environment systems, which inspired the current study. The last line: “The price of seeking equilibrium is increasing.”)

Sebastian Funk, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the coronavirus study underscores the importance of evaluating how interventions to contain the spread during an outbreak may affect the human behavior. “Excluding this from infectious disease transmission models can be a major limitation,” he said.

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