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Erratic flu vaccination emerges from short-sighted behavior in contact networks.

Abstract

The effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccination programs depends on individual-level compliance. Perceptions about risks associated with infection and vaccination can strongly influence vaccination decisions and thus the ultimate course of an epidemic. Here we investigate the interplay between contact patterns, influenza-related behavior, and disease dynamics by incorporating game theory into network models. When individuals make decisions based on past epidemics, we find that individuals with many contacts vaccinate, whereas individuals with few contacts do not. However, the threshold number of contacts above which to vaccinate is highly dependent on the overall network structure of the population and has the potential to oscillate more wildly than has been observed empirically. When we increase the number of prior seasons that individuals recall when making vaccination decisions, behavior and thus disease dynamics become less variable. For some networks, we also find that higher flu transmission rates may, counterintuitively, lead to lower (vaccine-mediated) disease prevalence. Our work demonstrates that rich and complex dynamics can result from the interaction between infectious diseases, human contact patterns, and behavior.

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