It was developed by researchers at New York University’s School of Global Public Health and published in Royal Society Interface Magazine, a mathematical study entitled “Triple Infection”, which aims to predict outbreaks of infectious diseases caused by fear – of the diseases themselves and vaccines – and thus understand the different infection waves in epidemics such as those that occur with Covid-19.
For centuries, social distancing and vaccine rejection have shaped the dynamics of epidemics. However, these traditional models completely ignore the concerns that drive human behavior. “Emotions such as fear can replace rational behavior and induce non-constructive behavioral changes,” says Joshua Epstein, lead author of the study and professor of epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public Health. “For example, fear of contracting a virus such as SARS-CoV-2 can cause healthy people to isolate themselves at home or wear masks, which limits the spread. However, as infection decreases and fear decreases, people begin to abandon protective measures, Even as many infected people continue to spread. This is fuel for a new wave to explode,” he explains. In the same way, fear of a vaccine can make people forego vaccination, thus allowing the disease to re-emerge.
Through the “triple infection”, the researcher wants for the first time to link these psychological dynamics to disease movements, revealing new behavioral mechanisms to explain the continuation of the pandemic and the successive waves of infection in it. “If people think a vaccine is more scary than disease — whether they are skeptical about the seriousness of Covid-19 or out of unfounded fears fueled by misinformation — our study will show that by avoiding vaccines, a new cycle of disease can grow,” he adds. Epstein. The research takes into account behavioral factors such as the proportion of the population that fears the disease or the vaccine and how negative vaccination events can provoke fear, in addition to paying attention to the rate of disease transmission, the proportion of the vaccinated population and vaccination rates.
However, the study recognizes that fear is not static: it can spread through the population as a result of inaccurate information or disturbing updates, or even fade with time or reassuring news. Neuroscience suggests that fear itself can be contagious, but it also tends to fade or deteriorate. With our research, people can overcome their fears about illness and a vaccine — whether over time, when disease prevalence declines, or from interactions with other people who have recovered from Covid-19 or have been vaccinated and had minimal side effects,” Epstein details. Thus, the study aims to demonstrate that these two fears evolve and interact in ways that shape the behavior of both social distancing and vaccine adoption, as well as the relaxation of these behaviors, and that these dynamics can suppress or amplify the transmission of disease that produces multiple waves. Clinical Epidemiology at the College of Health: “Our model draws on the neuroscience of learning, with fear extinction and transmission to reveal new mechanisms in different epidemic waves and new ways of thinking about how to mitigate its spread.” New York University Global and study co-author.
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