Policy Resistance Undermines Superspreader Vaccination Strategies for Influenza

Chad R. Wells, Eili Y. Klein, Chris T. Bauch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Theoretical models of infection spread on networks predict that targeting vaccination at individuals with a very large number of contacts (superspreaders) can reduce infection incidence by a significant margin. These models generally assume that superspreaders will always agree to be vaccinated. Hence, they cannot capture unintended consequences such as policy resistance, where the behavioral response induced by a new vaccine policy tends to reduce the expected benefits of the policy. Here, we couple a model of influenza transmission on an empirically-based contact network with a psychologically structured model of influenza vaccinating behavior, where individual vaccinating decisions depend on social learning and past experiences of perceived infections, vaccine complications and vaccine failures. We find that policy resistance almost completely undermines the effectiveness of superspreader strategies: the most commonly explored approaches that target a randomly chosen neighbor of an individual, or that preferentially choose neighbors with many contacts, provide at best a 2% relative improvement over their non-targeted counterpart as compared to 12% when behavioral feedbacks are ignored. Increased vaccine coverage in super spreaders is offset by decreased coverage in nonsuperspreaders, and superspreaders also have a higher rate of perceived vaccine failures on account of being infected more often. Including incentives for vaccination provides modest improvements in outcomes. We conclude that the design of influenza vaccine strategies involving widespread incentive use and/or targeting of superspreaders should account for policy resistance, and mitigate it whenever possible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1002945
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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