Why is the UK doing so much better?

In absolute terms, the US has vaccinated more people for Covid-19 than any other country. But in relative terms, the UK is doing far better. I see three reasons for the success of the UK:

1. The UK has provided about 34 total doses per 100 people, vs. about 26.5 per 100 in the US.

2. First dose first. In the UK, almost all of the jabs have gone to people who have not yet received any doses. In the US, a substantial share of the shots are second doses.

3. The UK has focused very strongly on vaccinating old people first. The US has a mixed system, where the old are just one of many groups that are prioritized.

In recent weeks I’ve been told by friends and family of many cases of young and middle aged people receiving Covid shots. None of these were people with pre-existing conditions or essential workers.  I’ve heard of far too many such cases to assume these are flukes—the system is clearly flawed.  (And this isn’t sour grapes on my part; I was vaccinated way back in January.)

The US decided to create a complex bureaucratic system. In this sort of rationing regime, those who are well connected or good at gaming the system go first. Here’s is my view of the various systems for rationing:

First: Free market. The high prices induce a much stronger and more rapid supply response.

Second: Old people first. This sort of simple system is harder to game.  In the UK, roughly 94% of people over 65 have been vaccinated.

Third: A complex bureaucratic system.

Fourth: The European system, where little vaccine is even available.

I guess the US can take comfort from the fact that we are not last on the list.

PS.  Deaths are falling faster in the UK, but only part of that is due to their superior vaccine role out.  Covid naturally tends to come in waves, and then people (or governments) respond to surges by changing behavior.

Deaths in the UK are likely to continue falling rapidly, as by mid-April everyone over 50 who wants to be vaccinated (and under 50s with pre-existing conditions) will have already received a jab.  At that time, life should return to normal.  But will it?  A year ago I argued that we under-reacted at the beginning of the epidemic and that we would overreact at the end.  I’m sticking with that prediction.  I expect excessive precautions in many countries this summer, including the US.

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