Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 15, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TIME FOR YOUR FLU SHOT!....How should you allocate flu vaccine that's in short supply? Henry Farrell blogs today about a clever idea:

Its fairly well established that some individuals are a lot more likely to spread viruses than others; these super spreaders are exceptionally gregarious people, who have a wide and varied circle of friends with whom they share time, conversation, and unpleasant infections.

....If you can vaccinate these individuals, who are the hubs of the network, you can do an awful lot to limit the spread of the disease. The problem is that its often hard to figure out who the hubs are. Cohen, Havlin and ben-Avraham have figured out a very clever way of doing this. You randomly sample the population, and ask each person who you sample to nominate one of their acquaintances. You then vaccinate not the initial person who has been sampled, but instead their acquaintance. Because super spreaders are likely to know far more people than the average member of the population, they will be heavily over-represented among the acquaintances - and thus will be far more likely to be vaccinated.

There's no chance that I would end up being one of these all-powerful "hubs," but let's pretend anyway. What's the mechanism for getting me vaccinated? A letter?

Dear Mr. Drum:

You have been selected by your friends as an especially contagious person. Federal agents will be dropping by tomorrow to vaccinate you. Thank you for your cooperation.

I dunno. Remember all the fuss about flouridated water back in the 60s? Something tells me this plan won't fly anywhere outside the planet Vulcan.

Kevin Drum 9:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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