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Using Game Theory to Prevent Disease Outbreaks


This article describes how game theory can be applied to the outbreak of diseases. Specifically, it applies it to the use of vaccinations. With vaccinations, the best outcome for an individual is not necessarily what is best for a group. While it may seem like getting vaccinated is the obvious best choice, since it pretty much guarantees that you will not get the disease and are proven to be safe, there are actually short-term costs to getting vaccinated; the cost, time, short term health reactions, etc. Also, since most people get vaccinated, the chance of an unvaccinated person getting exposed to the disease are very small. Therefore, it may seem like the best option would be to not get vaccinated. However, when multiple people stop getting vaccinated, then the disease will spread more easily and suddenly being vaccinated will seem to be the better choice.

While the game theory that we reviewed in class mainly deals with two players, this application of it applies to a whole population. Each person in the population has the choice to get vaccinated or not, and because they are part of a larger group of people their choice alone may not have a large effect on the others. But if everyone thinks this way, everyone will end up with a worse outcome, and the disease will spread. This insight into human behavior can be used to ensure that the majority of a population will in fact get vaccinated, without relying on the population to make the right choice on their own. This is why vaccinations are pushed so hard by medical professionals, schools, and other organizations.  This is just one of the fascinating examples of how game theory is used in real life scenarios.



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September 2018