Game Theory: A Tool for the Vaccine Campaign


Luke Muggy, Operations Researcher

Game theory is a branch of mathematics that models competitive and cooperative human interaction. A game consists of a set of players, a set of strategies available to each player, and a set of payoffs to each player at the end of the game.

We use game theory to understand how people make decisions, to try to predict the outcomes of those decisions, to measure how well or how poorly those decisions make things for everybody else. We can also use game theory to identify incentives that align what's best for the individual with what's best for the overall system. And in this way, a decentralized system might behave as though it were being centrally managed.

With regards to the ongoing pandemic, game theory can help us with a couple things. First off, we can understand current local-level competition for resources, such as personal protective equipment, testing supplies, and vaccines. And we can use this in order to identify opportunities to cooperate in ways that further everybody's missions, particularly through the integration of supply chains or bulk purchases.

We also might be able to predict how individuals will select to receive service, such as testing or vaccination, which would help inform the spatial distribution of demand across different cities. We can then in turn use this to help craft smarter supply chains that anticipate demand instead of forcing demand to accommodate where supplies are sent. In this way, we might avoid some facilities being overcrowded, while others go underutilized.

We could also combine game theory with some other tools to try to identify groups of individuals who are hesitant to vaccinate geospatially and try to incentivize them to vaccinate by making the decision very convenient, for instance, by locating vaccination centers in the middle of these communities. In this way, we might encourage those who are on the fence about deciding whether or not to vaccinate, make the decision very easy.

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