Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 22205944
PLoS ONE 2011;6(12):e28300
Both pandemic and seasonal influenza are receiving more attention from mass media than ever before. Topics such as epidemic severity and vaccination are changing the way in which we perceive the utility of disease prevention. Voluntary influenza vaccination has been recently modeled using inductive reasoning games. It has thus been found that severe epidemics may occur because individuals do not vaccinate and, instead, attempt to benefit from the immunity of their peers. Such epidemics could be prevented by voluntary vaccination if incentives were offered. However, a key assumption has been that individuals make vaccination decisions based on whether there was an epidemic each influenza season; no other epidemiological information is available to them. In this work, we relax this assumption and investigate the consequences of making more informed vaccination decisions while no incentives are offered. We obtain three major results. First, individuals will not cooperate enough to constantly prevent influenza epidemics through voluntary vaccination no matter how much they learned about influenza epidemiology. Second, broadcasting epidemiological information richer than whether an epidemic occurred may stabilize the vaccination coverage and suppress severe influenza epidemics. Third, the stable vaccination coverage follows the trend of the perceived benefit of vaccination. However, increasing the amount of epidemiological information released to the public may either increase or decrease the perceived benefit of vaccination. We discuss three scenarios where individuals know, in addition to whether there was an epidemic, (i) the incidence, (ii) the vaccination coverage and (iii) both the incidence and the vaccination coverage, every influenza season. We show that broadcasting both the incidence and the vaccination coverage could yield either better or worse vaccination coverage than broadcasting each piece of information on its own.