The Indicator from Planet Money - Who Gets A Vaccine? A Conversation With Alvin Roth

Right now, demand for a coronavirus vaccine far outweighs supply. Leaders are trying to figure out who should get the vaccine first. Dr. Alvin Roth, a Nobel Prize winning economist who specializes in game theory, has some ideas. | Support The Indicator here.

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this is the indicator from Planet Money I'm Stacey Vanek Smith we have a vaccine for covid-19 that is of course the most wonderful news it means that there is a path out of the cycle of economic shutdown and serge has an illness and death and quarantine that we have all been living for the past 10 months at least eventually right now there are not all that many doses of the vaccine available not nearly enough to meet demand limited Supply great demand that is of course in economics problem states and countries have to decide now who gets the vaccine first and get the second and third and there's one Economist whose work is world famous for helping to make decisions like these

You also won a Nobel Prize. Dr. Alvin Roth is a Nobel prize-winning Economist who is best known for his work creating a kid in exchange that is finding ways to link up kidney donors with people who need kidneys Alvin's work has saved thousands of lives. And now the world is dealing with a shortage of life-saving medicine Alvin Ross work is especially relevant.

This is the indicator from Planet Money. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith today on the show who gets a vaccine a conversation with dr. Alvin Roth about how Game Theory can be used to help make medical decisions.

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Someone needs to get me some of that passed kidney multiple people need kidneys. That's the market and your bucket designers in game 2 is stuck to say well, so how would you how would you go about doing that was the complicating factors with kidneys because I mean one of them obviously is there's no money in this market. But also there are there are all kinds of considerations including the age and health in and it looked so where were some of the factors that you had to consider when dealing with it a kidney exchange. You can look at the distance that they could even have to travel you can look at age. You can look at buy maybe it would be good for me and my daughter and you and your daughter to swap but maybe we could do a bigger swap or I find a chain, you know that I mean and so sometimes

Organize it to get a whole lot of transplant eating a whole bunch of different things at and how did game Siri help you do that with somewhat different goals court rules of the game so that when people play the game, they will coordinate gracefully and get the best outcome. Could you have all these different people and what's best for me and what's best for you might not be exactly the same thing in particular is a shortage of blood type O donors. So if you and I are both blood type O patients, then the the system is constantly making a decision about in this train. We only have a limited number of blood type O donors and we have an excess of blood type of patients in the pool which one should get it. So so you and I might each agreed that the best outcome is where we get the the last blood type O,

That's why when you talk about Game Theory, you can't really talk about what's best for everyone. What's you know that we're trying to do what's good for the for the collective group and the number of kidney transplants has been increased by a lot so we can get more than a thousand a year limited number of covet dachshunds available. At least at this moment. What do you see when you look at that market right now? Not that it's a market per se but, you know waiting and waiting list.

So that's a little bit like what we going to do is vaccine different states are going to have different rules of how to get vaccine.

They also have different supply and demand it might be that lots of people in New York watch have a vaccine and it's possible and speculating a lot of vaccine hesitancy in the United States. So one thing that reminds me of kidney exchange a little bit of exchange supposing it turns out that I think we maybe do it this morning and supposed to check out that a New York Giants shorted, you know that there are lots of healthcare workers called evil people in various stores. So you could imagine that an exchange, you know, that that will send you and call him in a minute.

What would you like? What do you think is sort of an ideal way for States and I guess in countries to start approaching this because it isn't it is complicated and everybody wants the sexy right there. A lot of people want the sexy right now. The demand is greater than the supply like, what would you like to see happen or like to see start happening for four countries and states kind of making this decision that people said is your healthcare workers are important because they help us contain the disease, but they're also gonna be able to it because they're especially if we talked about healthcare workers who are treating people who are so it might make sense to prioritize them so that the hospital

But then you might also say, you know people who are who are at risk in various ways to get a highway because their life who is likely to be a super spreader, you know, who and who is exposed by by the nature of their work. They do maybe the essential workers who drive the truck Stand and Deliver the goods and maybe getting your signature. Right? Right cuz it cuz this is a little different than a kidney because we're talking about a fire stick and spread so that's in there to like people who are more likely to cuz if we can vaccinate what they like people who do deliveries then that could pay sort of exponential dividends it away is child care if you have school age children, and then I went home and especially if they're quite young I can't even really do Zumba classes without your help.

Not working very hard cuz they're providing a service the teachers used to provide do we might think about what kind what would be required to open up a big, me? Right that would be that would help in like other ways because then it could help people go back to work like the multiplier effect. You can get for not only does good for the person getting the crap, you know the needle in his in his upper arm, but but that job should also do the most good for the most other people.

Dr. Alvin Roth is a professor of Economics at Stanford University and winner of the 2012 Nobel prize in economics.

This episode of the indicator was produced by Nick Fountain fact-checked by Sean Saldana. The indicator is edited by Patty Hirsch and is a production of NPR.
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