When a house burns down, it affects more than just the owner, residents, and even neighbors.
Fast and efficient fire fighting is one public good. Contagious disease prevention is another public good. The public interest demands that all fires – in all forms – be put out before they spread.
Now we have COVID-19 vaccines that, while imperfect, are generally safe and effective. We should deliver them with the same urgency that we send fire trucks to any fire.
Economics explains why we don’t … and it’s not just the cost.
Last month, I explained why the vaccination progress map would determine economic progress. It wasn’t looking good at this point. The pace has improved a bit since then.
Nationwide, around 9.1 million people had received both of the required doses by February 7. Another 22.4 million had received the first dose. That’s great. However, “herd immunity” requires vaccination at least 70% of 330 million Americans. We still have a long way to go.
If you or a family member received the vaccine, you know it wasn’t easy. Some states do better than others, but there are plenty of horror stories out there.
My friend David Brockman described the experience of helping his elderly parents. The first hurdle is simply knowing where to go. Then there is the problem of more demand than supply. And then there is the waiting for what is available … and all the challenges that can arise from it.
“When my parents, Joe and Zelma Brockman, arrived at a Grand Prairie clinic for their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, they expected a wait. They had driven by a few days earlier and had a long line to go On January 4th, the first thing in the morning they went to Purple Hearts Primary Care Services to weather the rush, but when they arrived just after it opened at 9:00 am, a line was already extending from the entrance to neighboring stores in the strip mall and at the back of the building, some people had been there since 6:30 am
“The wait was two hours, then three. It was a cool morning and my people were bundled up in coats and gloves as they stood in the shade of the building. By noon they had to take off their coats in the direct sun. They had nothing to drink There were no available toilets. At one point a nurse told people not to use the ones in neighboring shops because the owners had complained to the landlord of the mall.
“At some point the heat and all that standing came to my mother, who is 86 years old. She passed out.
“Dad, 93, managed to break her fall when she collapsed. The nurse rushed over. Fortunately, Mom got away with a bruise. When she got up, the nurse left my parents with the air conditioning in their car wait would get them when it was their turn. Finally they were let in around 3 p.m. Six hours after they arrived, my parents received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine and a card asking them to return. to do all of this again in early February for the second dose again. Purple Hearts could not be reached for comment. Although mom is shaken by the experience, she doesn’t blame the clinic: ‘We just weren’t prepared.’ ”
You would be right to be upset if your house burned and the fire department ran like this. COVID-19 is far more common than house fires. Why is this happening?
The reasons vary. In Texas, the state decided to decentralize vaccine dispensing to a patchwork quilt of local vendors to allow eligible individuals choose where.
The problem with that: More choice is not always good. It is especially bad in a time-sensitive emergency.
You don’t ask your neighbors which fire department to call. You already know it.
I think Texas officials did this because they misunderstand the economy.
They see the public as a consumer and vaccines as a consumer product. That’s true in a sense. However, normal market processes do not apply in this situation.
- The vaccines are free for everyone. So there is no price competition.
- A particularly efficient provider will not be rewarded with higher profits. Others also have no financial incentive to use their methods.
- Vague, non-market forces determine the supply. The demand is now high everywhere.
This is neither a free market nor central planning. It is the worst of the two. The resulting mess was completely predictable.
Time is running out
To be clear, many dedicated professionals make heroic efforts to vaccinate people, doing all they can with what they have. You are not the problem.
It’s systemic. It’s not a minor problem either.
As COVID-19 cases slow down, the CDC reports that variant “B117” is spreading rapidly in the US. It’s more contagious and potentially more deadly. It will prevail here within a few weeks.
Right now, some people fear that spending on pandemic aid will boost inflation. That will only happen when the economy grows faster because we stopped the virus.
And The will only happen if the vaccination progress is accelerated even further, and Everyone continues all other precautions.
Getting a shot wouldn’t be that hard if state officials understood that we don’t have time to make the market work.
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