While an outbreak of the seasonal flu has hit 41 states, a national survey recently found that less than half of Americans received a flu vaccination this year. To better understand why we are willing to roll the dice with our health, a group of economists have created a computer simulation in which individuals are given varying cost-benefit analyses for getting a flu shot. “The multiplayer game simulates an epidemic among the players over several weeks. At the beginning of each day of the game, healthy players have the option to choose, at a cost, a protective action that reduces the likelihood of getting infected.”
What’s the Big Idea?
In the game, because self-protection from disease involved a cost, the greatest number of points was given to players who stayed healthy without receiving a flu shot. The kinds of costs that deter people from getting vaccinated include “a fear of negative side effects from taking a vaccination, a fear of needles, lost pay for time away from work, the gas cost of driving to a flu shot center and the time spent waiting in line for a vaccination as well as, for some, the cost of the vaccination itself.” Another observation taken from the game is that individuals who became sick once were more likely to self-protect in the future. In other words, suppliers should increase stocks of the flu vaccine for next year.