Life-Years Lost: The Quantity and The Quality

A few weeks ago, the NYT reported that “The Coronavirus Has Claimed 2.5 Million Years of Potential Life.” If you read the original study, you’ll discover one crucial caveat: The authors’s calculations assume that COVID victims would have had the standard life expectancy for Americans of their age.  They freely admit that this is unrealistic and inflates their estimate:

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is known to infect and replicate in many different tissues and exacerbates problems in several organ systems including the kidney, liver, heart, lungs and brain (Lu et al., 2020; Chandrashekar et al., 2020). Any individual with problems in these systems or the immune system is likely to be more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection and suffer more severe outcomes as has been demonstrated for immune deficiencies (Bastard et al., 2020). In addition, other health states qualifying as pre-existing conditions, such as obesity, hypertension, chronic kidney disease and diabetes are known comorbidity factors for COVID-19 (see CDC co-morbidity tables and references therein; https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/evidence-table.html) and these cohorts of individuals have a shorter than average predicted life span. Deaths due to complications with pre-existing comorbid conditions would artificially increase the person-years lost in these calculations but are difficult to quantitate in this current analysis.

The authors argue that fixing this problem would only modestly cut their estimates.  I’m not convinced, but I’d rather focus on a much bigger issue: Taking quality of life into account, how many life-years has the reaction to COVID destroyed?  To see what I’m getting at, ask yourself: “Suppose you could either live a year of life in the COVID era, or X months under normal conditions.  What’s the value of X?”  Given the enormous social disruption and dire social isolation that most people have endured, X=10 months seems like a conservative estimate.  For what it’s worth, this Twitter poll agrees*:

So what?  Well, we’ve now endured 8 months of COVID life.  If that’s worth only 5/6ths as much as normal time, the average American has now lost 4/3rds of a month.  Multiplying that by the total American population of 330M, the total loss comes to about 37 million years of life.  That’s about 15 times the reported estimate of the direct cost of COVID.

Casual readers will be tempted to declare that the cure has been much worse than the disease.  The right cost-benefit comparison, however, is not to weigh the cost of prevention against the harm endured.  The right cost-benefit comparison is to weigh the cost of prevention against the harm prevented.  You have to ask yourself: If normal life had continued unabated since March, how many additional life-years would have been lost?  I can believe that the number would have been double what we observed, even though no country on Earth has done so poorly.  With effort, I can imagine that the number would have been triple what we observed.  There’s a tiny chance it could have been five times worse.  But fifteen times?  No way.

Upshot: The total cost of all COVID prevention has very likely exceeded the total benefit of all COVID prevention.

Before you panic, note these key caveats:

1. This does not imply that zero COVID prevention was optimal.  The lesson is merely that we went much too far.

2. Prevention includes both private and government efforts.  The main lesson of the data is not merely that government overreacted, but that people overreacted.

3. As I’ve argued before, the initial costs of government action were moderate, because private individuals reacted strongly on their own.  Over time, however, government’s share of the burden has increased because private individuals’ have a strong tendency to lose patience and return to normalcy.

4. If a vaccine suddenly became available today, my calculations for the story so far would still hold.  Behavioral changes prevent deaths day-by-day.  They also drain life of much of its meaning day-by-day.

 

At this point, you could protest, “Hey Bryan, I thought you weren’t a utilitarian.”  So what if the cost of COVID prevention greatly exceeds the value of life saved?  My answer, to repeat, is that I have a strong moral presumption in favor of human liberty.  So while I respect individuals’ rights to overreact to moderate risks, I oppose any act of government that does not pass a cost-benefit test with flying colors.

And no, I don’t think that an asymptomatic person who walks down the street unmasked is “aggressing” against passersby in any meaningful way.

* You could object that my Twitter followers are self-selected to regard COVID prevention costs as high.  In point of fact, they consider the personal costs markedly less serious than the average costs:

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Conspiracy theories can cost lives

In a recent post, I discussed the appeal of conspiracy theories. Some of these theories are probably harmless, as with the belief that the government is hiding evidence of alien contact from outer space. In other cases, however, the theories are quite costly.

I’d encourage people to read this twitter thread from a nurse in Texas. He’s a brief excerpt:

 

And a recent Yahoo article mentions a similar example from South Dakota:

I don’t know how many people share this view, and indeed it is unlikely that people fall neatly into one of two camps.  Thus one poll suggested widespread skepticism about Covid was increasing:

In February, a little more than a quarter of U.S. adults believed the coronavirus was being blown out of proportion. Now, that number has risen to nearly 40% of respondents.

However “blown out of proportion” can include both those who see a hoax, and those who correctly understand that the risk is fairly low for younger people.  There are degrees of skepticism.

Nonetheless, I’ve see quite a few press reports of people are open to some pretty extreme conspiracy theories about Covid:

The survey conducted earlier this month also asked voters how likely they are to believe that “vaccines for COVID-19 will be used to implant tracking chips in Americans,” another baseless theory that has spread on social media this year.

More than a quarter of voters in the poll, 27 percent, said they thought the statement might be true, while 73 percent said it was likely false.

(Yes, I’m just as frustrated by the vague wording as you are.  “Might be”?  “Likely”?)

I don’t have any solution to this problem, but I do believe that when issues become politicized the problem often gets worse.  On average, people will probably make better choices when we don’t protect them from the consequences of their actions.  Treat them like adults, and they are more likely to act like adults.

At the same time I understand that there are “externality” issues with a pandemic, so it’s unlikely that the issue will remain completely apolitical.

HT:  Razib Khan

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Non-linearities in Covid outcomes

Recent trends in Covid-19 fatalities in Western countries are quite unusual, with a wide range of outcomes. We know that these highly divergent results can be explained with a model where long run outcomes are highly sensitive to whether the replication rate “R0” is above or below 1.0 (after social distancing.) I will argue that a country’s complexity plays an important role in determining that replication rate. Obviously the term ‘complexity’ will require some unpacking, but first let’s look at the number of Covid deaths thus far in November:

EU: 34,276 deaths (76.56 per million)

USA: 14,637 deaths (44.12 per million)

Canada: 658 deaths (17.38 per million)

Australia: Zero deaths (0 per million)

New Zealand: Zero deaths (0 per million)

I will argue that in the list above, countries with higher recent death rates are places with higher levels of complexity. And I’ll also argue that a slight difference in complexity can make a huge different in long run outcomes. And finally, I’ll argue that these results can be affected to some degree by policy choices, but mostly for countries near the “tipping point” (i.e. places like Canada and Australia.)

Before going further, let me address the concern that these results only show recent rends, and thus for instance the US has been hit harder than Europe if you look at the entire pandemic, not just November. Or that Australia and New Zealand had some deaths before November. That’s all true, but I’m interested in current trends because I feel they better illustrate the direction to which countries tend to migrate in the long run.

There are many possible reasons why Australia and New Zealand might have done better than other Western nations. For instance, Australia does not have particularly cold weather. But you could say the same about Texas, which had over 200 deaths yesterday. Or perhaps Australia was just lucky; the virus missed this remote continent.

But the Melbourne area was hit by a huge surge in cases a few months ago, with hundreds of new cases every single day during July and August. Perhaps they avoided “superspreaders”, but how likely does that seem when total cases are in the tens of thousands? There’s the “law of large numbers” to consider. How was Australia able to get things under complete control in a short period of time, and why weren’t other Western nations able to replicate that success?

Consider a model where Covid is easiest to control in an isolated village of 100 people, where everyone knows each other. As societies become more “complex”, Covid becomes progressively more difficult to control. But what exactly does the term  ‘complexity’ mean in this context?

I’m open to suggestions, but I’d start with density. Next I’d add the total population of a country. Then I’d add the ease of movement between population centers. Highly populated and dense countries with lots of movement between regions are highly complex.

Then I’d add cultural heterogeneity. That factor may be negatively correlated with civic cohesion, or willingness to cooperate for the public good. You might want to add administrative complexity; are the governmental lines of authority clearly demarcated?

Here’s another way to make the distinction. Travel in New Zealand is both much more convenient and much less interesting than travel in Italy. Italy is complex, while New Zealand is “simple” (no pejorative intended.) I’ve lived in both the UK and Australia, and Britain seemed like a much more complicated and confusing country. Less “legible” if that term has any meaning when applied to countries. I suspect that the UK’s greater density plays a big part in that difference. And notice that while hard hit Belgium is a small country, it’s also quite densely populated and culturally diverse, with a confusing governmental structure.

Although Australia has a population roughly comparable to Texas, and also has some metro areas that are only a bit smaller than Dallas and Houston, it differs in one important respect. The Australian population centers are more isolated than in Texas. In a sense, Australia is sort of like five New Zealands cobbled together—with population centers that are pretty isolated from one another by vast distances. People don’t typically just get in the car and drive from Adelaide to Perth. So when commenters tell me what Australia did differently, such as interstate travel bans, I want you to also reflect on the extent to which these policy differences are partly endogenous, reflecting geography and culture.

You might argue that Canada is kind of similar to Australia, both being continental size English-speaking countries with modest populations. But Canada is more diverse, with a French area that was hit far harder than the rest of Canada, including more than 60% of Canada’s Covid deaths. Right now, the four Maritime Provinces have a grand total of 43 active Covid cases, while Quebec has 13,463. Canada may also have more links to the US, despite recent travel bans.

In this model, even a slight difference in complexity can have big long run consequences if it puts two countries on the opposite side of R0 = 1.0. Canada had the misfortune of having a bit too much complexity to control Covid (or perhaps a bit less effective government policies). Over time, the two countries diverged more and more, with Australia going to zero deaths and Canada to a position somewhere between Australia and the much more complex US/EU regions.

The big policy question going forward is whether in a future global pandemic there is a set of policies that if pursued early and aggressively could get us to the Australian equilibrium. I don’t believe that any one policy could do that for the US or the EU, but I wouldn’t rule out a set of policies in combination. These would include a much earlier travel ban from the country where the virus originates. And a much more aggressive test-trace-isolate regime for the few cases that sneak though the travel ban.

It’s much easier to control an epidemic if you don’t first allow it to get out of control, but (and this is important) Melbourne showed that it’s possible to eliminate a pandemic even after it’s out of control. That’s very good news.

My suggestions might lead to an overreaction to less serious threats, such as the earlier SARS virus from 2003. But in a sense what I think doesn’t really matter. The reality is that future SARS-type outbreaks will be accompanied by some pretty draconian travel bans, at least until scientists can figure out the exact risk associated with the new virus. That’s the new world we live in, for better or worse. And for the few cases that do sneak through, expect countries to try very hard to replicate what Melbourne did.

PS.  I hope it goes without saying that I am not recommending that countries become less complex.  Complexity also confers huge advantages.  It helps explain why industries like Hollywood and Silicon Valley locate in the US rather than New Zealand.

PPS.  When examining the following graph, pay attention to the log scale:

 

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Is Rand Paul actually wrong?

This Yahoo headline caught my eye:

Rand Paul’s Shockingly Bad Advice To Recovered COVID-19 Patients Fires Up Twitter

The story contained these competing claims:

The senator urged all those who have recovered from the coronavirus to throw out their masks and go out and enjoy public spaces because they are now “immune” to it. This is not true; there have been confirmed cases of reinfection both in the U.S. and abroad.

“We have 11 million people in our country who have already had COVID. We should tell them to celebrate. We should tell them to throw away their masks, go to restaurants, and live again, because these people are now immune,” he told Fox News host Martha MacCallum.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that reinfection is possible and that all people should wear masks in public spaces, regardless of whether they have had COVID-19 or not.

It is certainly true that reinfection is possible, but that has almost no bearing on whether Rand Paul is correct when he tells those who have had the disease to throw away their masks.  The question is whether the risk of re-infection is high enough to make mask wearing appropriate, not whether it’s zero.  I don’t know the answer to that question, but this article suggests the risk of reinfection (before there is a vaccine) is very low:

Following the news this week of what appears to have been the first confirmed case of a Covid-19 reinfection, other researchers have been coming forward with their own reports. One in Belgium, another in the Netherlands. And now, one in Nevada.

That doesn’t sound like very many for a world with many tens of millions of recovered Covid victims.

You might think that I’m just quibbling over a minor point, but I have in mind something more serious.  There’s a danger that people use measures appropriate for a very serious crisis even after the threat becomes far lower.

Consider this analogy.  The 9/11 terrorist attack was a severe shock to the US, with nearly 3000 killed.  After this event, we quickly took measures to prevent a repeat.  But then we went much further, taking extremely costly steps to prevent far smaller terrorist attacks, where the costs almost certainly outweighed the benefits.  My fear is that we’ll come out of this with mask wearing becoming somehow normalized, even for medical threats an order of magnitude lower than Covid-19.  For “just the flu”.

People who early on claimed that this is “just the flu” were rightly criticized.  But what is the actual risk for those who have already had the virus once?  I don’t know, but I’m not able to find evidence that the risk is significant enough to require mask wearing.

There are other arguments for having everyone wear masks in crowded stores until we have a vaccine.  It provides “social solidarity”, as customers might feel more comfortable if other shoppers have masks.  They would not be aware that the person not wearing a mask had already recovered.  But if that’s your actual objection to Rand Paul’s statement, then say so!

I’m a big fan of mask wearing and have no ax to grind on this issue.  So if I’m wrong about reinfections, if those who have recovered are still highly likely to get the disease again, then let me know that I’m wrong about the facts and I’ll change my view.

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Trump supported lockdowns

President Trump is such an unusual politician that people (myself included) have trouble seeing him clearly. For instance, Trump is often seen as an opponent of lockdowns. But while he did often speak out against lockdowns during the waning days of the campaign, he actually supported them during the period they were most restrictive.  Here’s a NYT headline from April 22:

Trump Criticizes Georgia Governor for Decision to Reopen State

“I think it’s too soon,” said the president, who joined several mayors in questioning Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, who had said some businesses could resume on Friday.

And here’s a tweet from April 30:

And it’s not just lockdowns.  I could easily dredge up Trump quotes for and against masks, for and against testing, or for and against any of a number of other policies.

Trump needed substantial votes from two groups that had very different views on Covid-19.  One group, mostly made up of his “base”, included small businesses worried about the economic effects of lockdowns, libertarians opposed to mask mandates, and Hispanic workers who lost jobs due to lockdowns.  Another group included moderate Republicans in the suburbs with professional jobs, who were economically insulated from the crisis but worried about the effects on their health.

It seems to me that early on he sensed that there was a risk of going too far “right” on the issue, losing those swing suburban voters.  Later in the year, it became clear that the problem wasn’t going away and indeed was picking up again.  At that time, he decided to go down the final stretch by appealing to his base with an anti-lockdown message.

I’m not sure that Trump had any good options politically (once the epidemic was out of control), although it’s intriguing to speculate as to what would have happened if he had followed me in questioning the experts (skeptical) view on masks back in early March.  The actual issue in which Trump questioned the experts (chloroquine) didn’t seem to pan out for him in the end, but by late April, experts throughout the world had basically decided that masks were indeed the way to go.  It might have been a big political win for Trump if he’d been ahead of the experts.  In addition, masks are a more attractive solution for small businesses than lockdowns.  In conservative Mission Viejo, almost everyone wears mask when in stores.  In contrast, very few people in North Dakota wore masks, and now they are paying the price.

When politicians encourage people to voluntarily wear masks, they are actually promoting liberty.  That’s because the more people that wear masks, the less political pressure there will be for lockdowns.

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About those Muslim immigrants to Germany

A few years ago, Germany was heavily criticized for taking in roughly a million refugees from mostly Muslim countries. Today we discover that the promising Pfizer vaccine that might help to end the pandemic was developed by the children of Turkish migrants to Germany:

Admittedly, most of the recent refugees are not likely to produce important medical breakthroughs.  But Şahin’s father worked in a German car factory, and I doubt that many people in Germany thought the child of one of those Turkish factory workers would someday help to save the world economy.  As Bryan Caplan likes to point out, more people leads to more ideas–especially when the extra people are given opportunities denied in their home country.

Once this pandemic is over, I very much hope the US government reconsiders the ban on travel from certain Muslim countries.

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The price of medical ethics (and fiscal stimulus)

In the US, more than 800 people a day die of Covid-19, and the curve is beginning to trend upward again. Clearly there would be a substantial benefit from having a vaccine, just in terms of lives saved. In addition, Covid-19 imposes an enormous cost on the economy, especially sectors such as travel and entertainment.

Many pundits have suggested that “challenge studies” would speed up vaccine development. In the past, when I’ve advocated this approach some have argued that it wouldn’t make much difference.  But a recent article suggests that vaccine development is indeed being slowed by a lack of infections:

On Tuesday, front-runner Pfizer revealed in an earnings call that the first interim analysis in its Phase 3 clinical trial has not yet occurred. That means there hadn’t yet been enough Covid infections among the trial participants to take a first stab at analyzing whether the people randomly assigned to receive vaccine were infected at a lower rate than people who were assigned to get a placebo injection.

So the Pfizer vaccine is being held up by a lack of infections, something that could be addressed with challenge studies. Some medical ethicists oppose the idea.

A vaccine is not the only possible way to get our economy back on track; an effective treatment for Covid would also make people more willing to go out engage in economic activities. Another article in the same journal suggests that policy mistakes also played a role in slowing the availability of treatments. Here Scott Gottlieb discusses the shortage of monoclonal antibodies, a highly promising new set of drugs:

“It is deeply unfortunate that we head into fall without enough doses of this drug,” Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, tweeted after Regeneron released its news. “Many of us were talking about this as early as March. Regeneron did extraordinary work to secure their own manufacturing, but we needed a concerted industrial effort to get the supply we needed.”

Indeed, Gottlieb penned op-eds in the spring and summer calling for a government-backed effort to manufacture the antibodies in large volumes — akin to the massive effort to develop experimental, and still unproven, Covid-19 vaccines. He reiterated that action needs to be taken now to accumulate sufficient supply to treat high-risk patients.

In the spring, I criticized the program that gave $1200 to almost all middle class families, even those with jobs.  Some people argued that budget deficits are almost costless at near-zero interest rates.  But even in the unlikely event that interest rates stay at zero forever, any given government program has an opportunity cost—the money could have been spent elsewhere.  If these funds had instead been used to fund a crash program in drug manufacturing, we’d likely be much closer to a solution to the Covid recession.

[Sure you can argue, “do everything”.  But politicians are not willing to spend unlimited amounts of money, nor should they.]

In mainstream economic textbooks, there are actually relatively few industries where there is a strong theoretical argument for government intervention.  Most of those cases involve some sort of “externality” or “public good”.  And yet we see real world governments spend literally trillions of dollars on programs where there is little theoretical justification, and still fail to fund the one area where there seems to be a very strong “public good” argument.  Based on what I’ve read, this problem is even worse in many other countries, including places like Italy, where the government spends over 50% of GDP and yet provides substandard services in many areas.

I worry when I hear pundits suggest that government spending is not costly in a world of near-zero interest rates.  That’s a recipe for waste, and for misallocation of resources.

PS.  The benefits from solving the Covid-19 problem goes beyond lives saved and an improved economy, there is also evidence that the disease causes brain damage:

Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine reviewed 84 studies involving more than 600 patients who had been diagnosed with COVID-19. The median age was 61, and two-thirds of the patients were men, while one-third were women. The study’s authors examined the results of patients’ electroencephalograms — known as EEGs, the tests detect abnormalities in brain waves, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine — and found that brain abnormalities in COVID-19 patients were “common.”

HT: Tyler Cowen

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How Much Should Young People Be Punished?

Great debate on lockdowns.

I like what retired Professor John A. Lee has to say. Economist Dan O’Brien is also very succinct: How much punishment are we willing to inflict on young people?

The guy who put this together clearly doesn’t like the message of Professor Tomas Ryan, the advocate of lockdowns, as evidenced by the crawls he types on the screen as Ryan talks. I found this alternately amusing and annoying.

Trivia question: What is the number of people under age 25 who have died of COVID-19 in Ireland?

The answer is in the 16-minute video.

HT2 Don Boudreaux.

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Open the Schools and the Playgrounds

A group of researchers, spearheaded by Brown University Professor Emily Oster, have created and made available the most comprehensive databaseon schools and Covid case rates for students and staff since the pandemic started. Her data—covering almost 200,000 kids across 47 states from the last two weeks of September—showed a Covid-19 case rate of 0.13% among students and 0.24% among staff. That’s a shockingly and wonderfully low number. By comparison, the current overall U.S. case rate is 2.6%, an order of magnitude higher.

Other research has shown that hospitalization and fatality rates for school-age children are also extremely low. People 19 and younger account for only 1.2% of Covid-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. during the peak of the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that of all Covid-19 deaths up to Oct. 10, only 74 were of children under age 15. During the 2019-20 flu season, the CDC estimates, 434 children under 18 died of the flu. Yet we don’t shut down schools over the flu.

This is from David R. Henderson and Ryan Sullivan, “End the School Shutdown,” Wall Street Journal, October 20 (print edition: October 21).

30 days from now, which is November 20 (the day before my 70th birthday),  I’ll post the whole thing.

A friend on Facebook asked me about the issue of compulsory schooling. He knows I oppose compulsion. I don’t know my co-author’s view on that and I wanted to stick with issues we agree on. So I didn’t raise it. But my view is that any parents who want to keep their children out of school should be able to do so. I predict that this will be under 10 percent of parents.

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The FDA’s Differing Approval Standards For Sleeping Pills and Covid Vaccines

Sam Peltzman, a University of Chicago emeritus professor, could easily win this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics for his pioneering work on the economics of regulations. Peltzman’s odds of winning have probably improved because of his work nearly a half century ago on the impact of the FDA’s efficacy requirement for drug approval, which was imposed in 1962. Before that year, drugs only had to pass the FDA’s safety standards.

Peltzman found that the added approval standard substantially increased drug development costs, which caused a serious drop-off in new drugs developed and multiyear delays in the introduction of approved drugs. Peltzman and other economists following his lead have found that the added development costs caused hundreds of thousands of deaths from drugs never making it to market or being introduced after long delays. A Nobel for Peltzman is long overdue.

Peltzman’s impact can be heard today from a variety of sources, including the Trump Administration, calling for a speed-up in the FDA’s approval of Covid-19 vaccines. Delays in approval can only increase Covid cases and deaths. Peltzman’s findings remain applicable, critics insist.

The rigor of approval standards for sleeping pills (or beta-blockers and many other drugs) need not, and cannot, be the same as those for Covid vaccines, a point Peltzman would likely accept. Sleeping pills are largely for the users’ benefit—more sleep—with the effects on others nil or inconsequential. The death-reduction case for reducing such drugs’ development costs remains as strong as ever.

However, vaccines are different in one critical respect: Vaccines benefits those vaccinated and many others through the development of “herd immunity” (the point at which the spread of a disease is throttled by the prevalence of inoculation).

Herd immunity can reduce cases and deaths of those vaccinated as well as others not vaccinated. However, herd immunity depends on a substantial portion of the population (many epidemiologists say 60 or more percent, while one recent study from two European universities has found 43 percent is adequate) willingly getting vaccinated (with a working rule, the greater the spread in immunity, up to a point, the greater the decline in disease spread). This means that, barring forced vaccinations, herd immunity is not only dependent upon the science of testing, but also on people’s perception of the safety and efficacy of the testing processes.

Cutbacks in testing rigor (or just the amount of time devoted to testing) can have a two-pronged effect: They can reduce earlier than otherwise Covid deaths among early vaccinated people, but the cuts in rigor can also cause many people to resist vaccination (or even join the ranks of “anti-vaxxers”), delaying the development of herd immunity and extending spread of the disease, which, in turn, can cause more Covid deaths in the long run than are saved in the short run.

Ironically, the greater people’s resistance to vaccination, the more rigorous the testing may have to be just to assuage their safety and efficacy fears and induce them to get vaccinated, so that they contribute to the spread of herd immunity and add to derivative economic gains (more jobs and incomes).

By seeking to speed up the FDA approval process, Republican officials could have sewn doubts on the net value of vaccines and slowed the development of herd immunity. Similarly, many Democrats could have compounded the problem by suggesting that Trump has pressed the FDA to compromise its testing rigor for his reelection ends. Media hostility toward Trump, including emphasis on his efforts to press for vaccine development at “warp speed,” has probably compounded political pressures for vaccine resistance.

Peltzman’s line of argument suggests that greater resistance to vaccination can increase the needed payments to spread vaccinations and, again, to achieve herd immunity. The testing rigor for vaccines may also need to be greater than for sleeping pills because the last thing wanted during a pandemic is a vaccine-prescription requirement, which can slow the development of herd immunity by raising the costs of vaccinations.

The politics of vaccines could be having the unintended effect of elevating resistance to Covid vaccinations. In May, the Pew Research Center reported that 72 percent of polled Americans said that they would “definitely” or “probably” be vaccinated for Covid, while 27 percent said they would not. Earlier this month, the percentage of Americans willing to get vaccinated was down by almost a third, to 51 percent. Those unwilling to get vaccinated was up by more than two-thirds, to 49 percent.

These findings portend a new form of the well-known “tragedy of the commons,” a wider and longer spread of Covid and more unintended deaths, given that a check on vaccine politics will unlikely be driven by concern for the common good. Now, as reported by Wall Street Journal editors, officials from the CDC, FDA, NIH, and drug companies are having to work overtime to assure Americans that drug-testing protocols continue to be follow with the upmost rigor.

 

 

 

 

 

Richard McKenzie is an emeritus professor of economics in the Merage Business School at the University of California, Irvine. His latest book under development is The Human Brain on Economics.

 

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