Volume 29, Issue 33 pp. 5331-5574 (26 July 2011)
“Wait and see” vaccinating behaviour during a pandemic: A game theoretic analysis
Samit Bhattacharyya, Chris T. Bauch
During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, many individuals did not seek vaccination immediately but rather decided to “wait and see” until further information was available on vaccination costs. This behaviour implies two sources of strategic interaction: as more individuals become vaccinated, both the perceived vaccination cost and the probability that susceptible individuals become infected decline. Here we analyze the outcome of these two strategic interactions by combining game theory with a disease transmission model during an outbreak of a novel influenza strain. The model exhibits a “wait and see” Nash equilibrium strategy, with vaccine delayers relying on herd immunity and vaccine safety information generated by early vaccinators. This strategic behaviour causes the timing of the epidemic peak to be strongly conserved across a broad range of plausible transmission rates, in contrast to models without such adaptive behaviour. The model exhibits not only feedback mechanisms but also a feed-forward mechanism: a high initial perceived vaccination cost perpetuates high perceived vaccine costs (and lower vaccine coverage) throughout the remainder of the outbreak. This suggests that any effect of risk communication at the start of a pandemic outbreak will be amplified compared to the same amount of risk communication effort distributed throughout the outbreak.