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The Peltzman Effect and the lessons this theory on road accidents has for Covid behaviour

Doctors from NYU's Langone Health cite the Peltzman Effect to say people have been getting lax in following Covid appropriate behaviour due to a false sense of security from vaccines.

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New Delhi: As more people get vaccinated for Covid-19, doctors have warned against people becoming lax in following important preventive measures such as wearing a mask, hand hygiene and social distancing.

In an article published in the ACP Journals on March 2, doctors from New York University’s Langone Health wrote that “consciously or not, even those who have not received a Covid-19 vaccine may forgo masks and social distancing if they know that others are receiving the vaccine. As the number of people vaccinated increases, this effect may also grow due to a misplaced sense of security in ‘herd immunity’ long before widespread immunity is truly present.”

This, they wrote, was because of the Peltzman Effect, which is causing people to reduce their Covid-19 appropriate behaviour since vaccines are seen as a safety-net against the disease.

ThePrint tells you what exactly is the ‘Peltzman Effect’ and how it’s relevant during Covid-19.

Also read: India registers over 1 lakh new Covid cases in 24 hours for the first time

More safety nets, less attention to danger

The Peltzman Effect is named after Sam Peltzman, professor of economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, who argued that highway safety regulations did not reduce highway deaths because of something called risk compensation.

In a paper published in 1975, titled ‘The Effects of Automobile Safety Regulation’, he explained that risk compensation is when people take bigger risks because they feel more protected by certain safety nets. And so, safety devices like seat belts and airbags could, he reasoned, make people feel like they can compromise on their own attentiveness or behaviour.

Also read: ‘Grim, alarming, scary’, says govt as India’s Covid cases jump 12% in 24 hours, panic sets in

Peltzman Effect on Covid-19

“Acknowledging and understanding the Peltzman Effect,” wrote the NYU doctors, “is therefore critical to counteracting its possible negative effects.”

India, for example, went into Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, forcing people to take the threat of the illness seriously. A year on, pandemic fatigue has set in, markets have opened up and precautions taken by people have also slackened visibly.

We currently have two vaccines in the market: Covaxin by Bharat Biotech, which has an efficacy of 80 per cent, and Covishield by the Serum Institute of India, with an efficacy of approximately 60 per cent (if given eight weeks between doses). While the vaccines do help in checking the spread of the disease, three measures that can decrease the risk of contracting Covid-19 — wearing a mask, frequent hand-washing, and social distancing, need to be followed at all times.

India has so far vaccinated a total of 7,91,05,163 as on 5 April, and will continue to vaccinate others in phases. The country is also currently in the throes of a second wave of Covid-19 infections, having registered 1,03,794 fresh infections on 4 April, the highest number of infections recorded in a single day so far.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Modi govt taking stock of remdesivir availability amid Covid surge, reports of drug shortage


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