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.
With the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine starting in the United States, here are the answers to some questions you might be wondering:
- If I live in the United States, when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccines may vary by state, most will likely prioritize medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities. If you want to understand how this decision is made, this article will help you.
- When can I resume a normal life after being vaccinated? Life will only return to normal when society as a whole is sufficiently protected against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they will only be able to immunize a few percent of their citizens at most in the first two months. The unvaccinated majority will remain vulnerable to infection. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines show strong protection against the disease. But it is also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they are infected, as they show only mild symptoms, if any. Scientists do not yet know if vaccines also block transmission of the coronavirus. So for now, even vaccinated people will have to wear masks, avoid crowds inside, etc. Once enough people are vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we, as a society, reach this goal, life may start to move closer to something normal by fall 2021.
- If I have been vaccinated, do I still have to wear a mask? Yes, but not forever. Here’s why. Vaccines against the coronavirus are injected deep into the muscles and stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies. This appears to be sufficient protection to prevent the vaccinated person from getting sick. But what’s not clear is whether it’s possible for the virus to bloom in the nose – and either sneeze or breathe out to infect other people – even though antibodies elsewhere in the body have mobilized to prevent the vaccinated person to get sick. Clinical vaccine trials have been designed to find out whether people vaccinated are protected from the disease – not whether they might still spread the coronavirus. Based on studies of the flu vaccine and even of patients infected with Covid-19, researchers have reason to hope that those vaccinated will not spread the virus, but more research is needed. In the meantime, everyone, even those who have been vaccinated, will have to think of themselves as possible silent spreaders and continue to wear a mask. Learn more here.
- Will it hurt? What are the side effects? The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is given by injection into the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection into your arm won’t be different from any other vaccine, but the rate of short-lived side effects seems higher than a flu shot. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines and none of them have reported serious health problems. Side effects, which may resemble symptoms of Covid-19, last for about a day and appear more likely after the second dose. Initial reports of vaccine trials suggest that some people may need to take time off work because they feel unwell after receiving the second dose. In the Pfizer study, about half developed fatigue. Other side effects occurred in at least 25-33% of patients, sometimes more, including headache, chills, and muscle pain. While these experiences are not pleasant, they are a good sign that your own immune system is developing a potent response to the vaccine that will provide long-lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to stimulate the immune system. This molecule, known as mRNA, is ultimately destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slip inside. The cell uses mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any given time, each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce to make their own proteins. Once these proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules made by our cells can only survive for a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is designed to resist the enzymes in the cell for a bit longer, so that the cells can make additional viral proteins and elicit a stronger immune response. But mRNA can only last a few days at most before being destroyed.
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.