Game theory has a bit to say about how to lift the vaccination rate
So, it seems a lot of people are pinning their hopes on a successful vaccination program – that if we can get the vaccination rate high enough we might be able to put lockdowns behind us.
I’m not sure. I kinda sense a bit of wishfulness there. No one seems to be sure. There’s just a hope, and herd-level vaccination rates are the only hope we have.
… which says a bit about how depressing our situation is.
But look, if the goal is to get vaccinations up, and to bring the ‘vaccine hesitant’ around to the idea, here’s three ideas from the economics sub-discipline of game theory and behavioural economics.
1. Make sure you have enough vaccines.
Ok, this isn’t all that sophisticated, but it’s still a valid point. If you want people to get vaccinated, there needs to be enough vaccines to go around. Right now there’s not. The waiting list is months long in some places.
But yeah, ok, I’m being cute.
1. Don’t pay people for it
Labor came out with a proposal last week to pay everyone $300 to get vaccinated. I’m not sure this is going to work.
It frames it in a bad way. You get paid to do stuff you don’t like. It says that there are valid reasons why you don’t want to be vaxxed, but we’re asking you to put them aside for the sake of 300 bucks.
It just makes the sceptical more sceptical.
And financial incentives like that really depend on the size of the reward relative to incomes. For some people, $300 is going to be very motivating. For someone like me though, it’s neither here nor there.
And I’m certainly not selling my reservations for ‘a round of drinks’.
2. People can’t do maths – leverage that
Rather than paying people – which would be a massively expensive exercise – you might be better off doing a lottery. If you get vaxxed, you get a ticket in a lottery to win a house or something.
This might work because people suck at maths.
“Those things work because people tend to overestimate the chance they will win the lottery,” said Richard Holden, an economics professor at the University of NSW.
But still, you have the same problem with a payment. When you offer to pay for people to put aside their reluctance, you are saying that there are good and valid reasons for that reluctance.
And maybe there are, but that’s certainly not the official line I’m hearing.
And so it just doesn’t work that well.
The evidence actually shows that. A University of Queensland statistician, Adrian Barnett, recently conducted an experiment with several other academics on 1628 unvaccinated people in the US to determine the most effective way to convince them to get vaccinated.
They found 22 per cent were motived by an offer of cash, 14 per cent by a lottery and 16 per cent by information about vaccines’ benefits.
So yeah. What’s that? 36% will take the money. That’s not going to get us there.
3. People are regret avoiders
The stat I keep hearing is that you are much more likely to suffer at the hands of the virus itself than at the hands of any vaccine side-effects.
This doesn’t matter. It’s not persuasive.
People will weight these things very differently because of the agency they have in the situation.
People don’t want to make choices they might regret. If you get vaxxed, and something happens, you will naturally blame yourself. You will regret it a lot.
But if you do nothing, and you get Covid, then it’s just fate. You won’t blame yourself. You won’t have any regrets. Or they’ll be different regrets anyway.
So people will look at these two scenarios very differently.
Actually, now that I say that, I realise this is a case for mandatory vaccination. If it becomes mandatory, then it takes the decisions away from people, and most people will be happier about that.
Yes, people are funny.
But look, at the end of the day, it still feels like a dog’s breakfast. Pollies are pleading with us to come forward and get vaccinated, even though the vaccines don’t exist, and there’s so many messages I can’t keep track of them all.
There’s still a long road ahead, whatever happens.