Last year, only about half of Americans got vaccinated against flu. Scientists were puzzled ass to why—after all, flu occurs on a predictable schedule but can be quite unpredictable as to whom it afflicts, and is not only dangerous but sometimes deadly. Getting a flu shot is a simple thing almost anyone can do to protect their health, but people seem reluctant.
Now economists may have some insight as to where this reluctance comes from. Using a computer simulation of risk-reducing behavior, they found that people are more inclined to do something when the cost is low relative to the perceived reduction in risk. The more money or effort people need to put into getting protection, such as with a flu shot, the greater the benefit they demand. This result is unsurprising, but the simulation allowed the researchers to quantify this effect, and will help guide medical professionals to induce people to get vaccinations against this year’s flu.
The virus that causes the flu changes every year, which is why you need a new vaccination every year. Doctors have to develop a different formulation of the vaccine to respond to each year’s variety. Fortunately, pharmaceutical researchers have the procedure for developing vaccines down. Influenza vaccine is generally available from the start of the flu season in late summer or early fall and provide protection as long as that year’s variety is circulating, generally until the following spring.
In the United States, insurance companies are required by law to cover flu vaccine, so the financial barrier is reduced. However, not all costs are monetary. Even people who don’t have to pay for a flu vaccine may be reluctant—or feel unable—to take the time to get the shot, or have difficulty finding someone from whom they can get it. In response to the latter concern, most drugstore chains offer flu shots during pharmacy hours. As for the time issue, more and more employers are offering on-site vaccinations to make it easier for employees to get protected during the work day. Moreover, the economists are urging employers who don’t do that to make it possible for employees to take the time off to get to a doctor or pharmacy in order to get a flu shot.