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The Economics of Infection

In a recent interview with Dr. Rupert Gatti, Dr. Flavio Toxvaerd discusses how a better understanding of individual behaviour in the face of the epidemic is indispensable to formulate better policies and this research is an important step in informing such policy.

This article was first published through the Institute for New Economic Thinking at the University of Cambridge.


For many years, Flavio Toxvaerd has been working, writing and speaking on the economics of infectious diseases, to both economists, public policy specialists and epidemiologists. He has conducted detailed studies on issues such as the optimal control of epidemics though vaccines, treatment and social distancing, the optimal control of diseases when infection is endemic and the optimal management of population immunity using vaccines and antivirals. He has also considered issues of individual incentives and decision making, and how to best align private incentives with public health goals. Lastly, he has worked on the issue of individual decision making when diseases are asymptomatic, with an emphasis on the effects of individuals’ beliefs, risk attitudes and propensity to fatalism.

Apart from his academic research, he has also engaged with policy on the topic. He served as the Senior Economic Advisor to the Independent Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, jointly set up by HM Government and the Wellcome Trust, and acted as Facilitator at the International Monetary Fund’s Antimicrobial Resistance and Pandemics Symposium, held in Washington DC, on 12th February 2019.

Recently, Flavio has published a Working Paper on ‘Equilibrium social distancing’. In his new working paper, Flavio Toxvaerd revisits one of the most pressing issues of the day - social distancing. Taking an economist’s perspective to this issue, he asks how and when spontaneous social distancing may be expected to occur and what drives people’s efforts to protect themselves against infection. Rather than a top-down approach in which the government imposes social distancing by decree, Flavio Toxvaerd is interested in how each individual makes such decisions for themselves and how these in turn interact with and influence the course of the epidemic. He finds that even without any government intervention or legislation, spontaneous and non-coordinated social distancing will eventually occur, thereby helping to flatten the curve.

In a recent interview with Dr. Rupert Gatti, Dr. Toxvaerd discusses how a better understanding of individual behaviour in the face of the epidemic is indispensable to formulate better policies and this research is an important step in informing such policy. Watch the video below.

Dr. Toxvaerd also writes for the Bennett Institute of Public Policy blog. Part 1 of his blog was "The economics of infection - an economist's journey into the natural world" and Part 2 was "Thought experiments - can economic models help disease control?", which explores an economist’s journey into the natural world.

Dr. Toxvaerd has also recently participated on an an expert panel where the Cambridge Enterprise & Technology Club hosted a seminar on ‘The Coronavirus: Global Impact’. Watch the video below.