When do people are more likely to engage in risky behaviour? When they feel that they are adequately secured. But is it really effective? What is the final outcome?
Let us check-out one example. The seat belts became mandatory and people felt more secured about being involved in fatal accidents. Well, it is true that number of death did reduce but overall number of accidents went up exponentially. Same things is noticed when cars came in with Anti-lock brakes. The people tended to throw the caution to wind. There is a very funny incident which happened in Sweden when they decided to change from driving on the left to the right in 1967. There was a massive drop in crashes and fatalities, which was linked to the increased apparent risk. The number of motor insurance claims went down by 40%. However once people got used to it, the accidents returned to normal over the next just six weeks.
This is a theory which states that people are more likely to engage in risky behavior when security measures have been mandated and is known as Peltzman Effect. This is named for Sam Peltzman’s postulation about mandating the use of seatbelts in automobiles. This is also known as Risk compensation where people typically adjust their behavior in response to perceived levels of risk, becoming more careful where they sense greater risk and less careful if they feel more protected.
Peltzman theorized that the introduction of safety devices, like seatbelts or airbags, might not have the intended effect of reducing accidents. He felt that because people felt safer driving with a seatbelt, they would drive with less attentiveness. Hence even though the ratio of fatalities will go down in accidents, the rate of accidents will rise enough to offset the decreased fatality rate.
Today we can see the same thing with the number of Corona cases. The number of new cases per day, all over India, had dropped down as low as 9000 on 11th February rose to 68000 on 28th March. Why did such thing happen? Why many people (including Imran Khan, Sachin Tendulkar, Paresh Rawal, just to name a few) have become infected with Corona virus after vaccination?
A doctor friend of mine laments: “I treated thousands of patients with Covid 19 for the last several months. But I was not positive. But after taking the vaccination, I became positive with the virus.” Accounts like these are not uncommon. Imran khan was vaccinated on a Thursday and became positive with the virus on Saturday. We have heard similar stories about several law makers in India too.
All of knew the facts, such as:
1. The immunity against Covid 19 doesn’t build immediately after the first dose or even immediately after the second. Full fledged immunity takes a few weeks after the second dose.
2. Immunity is not absolute. Even after complete vaccination, a person can get infected. His/her chance of dying or getting a severe infection requiring hospitalisation will be substantially less though.
3. Not all vaccines work to the same extent. The efficacy varies.
4. Not all vaccines are effective against all the variants. A lot of vaccines are less effective against B1.351 (the South African variant), for example.
However the Peltzman effect had kicked-in without people realising it.
The vaccines suddenly gave us a sense of security which lead to a increased risky behaviour. The problem is that while vaccines neither give immediate protection or full protection (against infection as against death), the sense of security unfortunately starts much earlier, even before the actual injection. And Peltzman effect comes into play: people wear masks with less caution, do not maintain distance as soon as they reach vaccination centres.
In fact this effect started for most people even before they took the vaccine. Many people felt protected just looking at the vaccination numbers. The mask usage, social distancing and hand sanitisation have become progressively less. While this is attributed mainly to pandemic fatigue, the Peltzman effect cannot be ignored.
While this behaviour is dangerous for general public, this can be disastrous for health care workers who directly deal with Covid 19 patients. A lot of them can get infected in the present second wave impairing the health care services. The effect is also evident in the drastic decline in the usage of PPE kits by the healthcare workers.
It is important to vaccinate the majority of the people at risk. But it is also important to be aware of Peltzman effect and be more careful until the effect of vaccination takes us close to herd immunity.
Hence finally the Peltzman Effect has a net-zero effect on overall safety between the presence of safety precautions and people’s tendency to be less cautious in their presence.
Be Alert and Be Safe; not only for you but for others as well.
@ Yeshwant Marathe
Thanks to Prashant Naik for his inputs.