EHS-COVID (482) The Peltzman effect - Risk compensation

27 November, 2021

Hi everyone!

The WHO recently reported concerns of a false sense of security and overprotection through COVID-19 vaccinations in many countries. believe that public health measures like social distancing, hand hygiene and masking are not required post-vaccination. Such a behavioral inception has led to a significant global resurgence in COVID-19 incidence.

'The Peltzman Effect' given by economics professor Sam Peltzman in 1975 describes the phenomenon of 'Risk Compensation' i.e. people are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour when protective measures are in place; which is counter-productive. It also explains that simply observing someone else taking a precaution can potentially increase one’s likelihood of taking a risk (bystander effect). It's relevance in context of COVID-19 is observed as-

1) Decreased compliance to public health measures post-vaccination (even at vaccination centres, social distancing protocols and masking are not followed)

2) Increase in COVID-19 incidence in many countries and communities

3) Bystander effect: "If the person next to you is wearing a mask/is vaccinated, you are less likely to do so" (A perceived sense of low risk implies an increased chance of engaging in risk taking behavior)

4) Public misinformation and unawareness may encourage risk-taking behaviour

5) Role of 'Pandemic fatigue' in risk compensation

Attached herewith is the link to an article on the 'Influence of the Peltzman effect on the recurrent COVID-19 waves in Europe'

Full text link-

Citation: Iyengar KP, Ish P, Botchu R, et al. Influence of the Peltzman effect on the recurrent COVID-19 waves in EuropePostgraduate Medical Journal Published Online First: 29 April 2021. doi: 10.1136/postgradmedj-2021-140234

Question- As overburdened and under equipped healthcare infrastructures recover from the disruption of essential healthcare services, how might we bypass the 'Peltzman effect' to ensure effectiveness of public health interventions?

Looking forward to hearing about your perspectives :)


Vedant S Jha

HIFA profile: Vedant Shekhar Jha is a Medical Cadet at the Armed Forces Medical College Pune, India. Professional interests: Palliative care, exploring unmet needs of cancer patients, the effective communication of health awareness. He is a HIFA catalyst on the HIFA working group on Maintaining essential health services during COVID-19.

Email address: vedantjha2000 AT