Herd immunity, again

May 15, 2009 at 5:12 am

| Gabriel |

Recently I talked about herd immunity in computer viruses. Yesterday Slashdot linked to an article on a potential vaccine that kills mosquitoes after they’ve bitten you, that is it has a herd immunity effect but no individual benefit at all. Although the article doesn’t mention it, traditional residential DDT spraying works exactly the same way. (After the mosquito bites you she rests on your wall, takes in DDT, and dies).

It’s interesting to think about whether people will adopt these sorts of vaccines since the discrepancy  between the marginal vs average benefit is even greater than with, say, the measles vaccine. In an article on DDT, Gladwell noted that dictatorships tended to be more effective at DDT campaigns than democracies, but I’d like to imagine that carrots would work as well as sticks to encourage people to contribute to the public good of herd immunity. Of course sociology has a lot to say about the best ways to get people to contribute to the health of strangers.

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