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Game Theory and Disease Outbreak

This article describes how game theory can be used to analyze disease outbreaks and improve the world’s condition on preventing diseases. There are two main angles to this problem. The first angle is that accepting vaccinations is in fact related to individual choice and Game theory. This might not be immediately obvious, since vaccines seem to be purely beneficial in helping preventing diseases. However, in fact there are some side effects of vaccines, or at least there are rumors that vaccines have side effects. The theory behind many vaccines is to inject a very weak virus of a certain disease into human body and therefore the human immune system can immediately generate a way to kill the very weak virus, and therefore renders the body immune to future virus of the same kind. This does have a very slight risk, so many might feel bad or develop a fever after they receive a vaccine. Besides this side effect, a vaccine can also have other costs like financial costs and pain for the injection. Therefore, when an individual think about whether he should receive vaccine, questions he or she might think about are: if I take the vaccine, I might need to spend a lot and possibly feel ill for a while, but the trade off is that I can never get the disease again; If I don’t take the vaccine, then there is chance that I can get the disease, but this becomes very unlikely when a majority of people chooses to take the vaccine and therefore the disease is very like to die and stop spreading. An example is provided in the article for this type of situations: “with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. After the vaccine was falsely linked to autism, vaccination rates in Europe and the US dropped. This has led to an increase in the incidence of measles and mumps, resulting in deaths and serious permanent injuries.” In this game, the Nash Equilibrium for amount of people who choose to take the vaccine and who don’t should be that the cost and risk for both taking vaccine and not to take is the same. The more people take vaccines, the less risky not taking vaccines becomes. Therefore, it is important to make people think that the initial risk for not taking vaccines is extremely high, and the cost for taking vaccines is actually low, so that in a Nash equilibrium, more people will choose to take vaccines compared to not.

Another aspect of this problem is related to travel bans. Often, to prevent diseases from spreading, a country’s government may initiate a travel ban against the countries with a disease outbreak. This does have some effect for the country itself by blocking the disease out, but it also decreases the flow of medical professionals and equipment. Therefore, the outbreak in the banned countries might become more and more severe due to lack of treatment and medical equipment, and eventually this disease might still spread to the world. In this kinds of situations, there are many variables to consider when evaluating risk. For example, a strange climate, one disease carrier travels to another region, etc. What we hope that is by evaluating risk and using game theory to predict how many countries might use travel bans, we can lower the risks for disease outbreaks as much as possible in the Nash equilibrium.


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September 2018