Vaccine misallocations only increase Americans’ faith in bigger government?

Compared to a purely private system, in which vaccine vendors merely shipped product to customers who’d ordered it, you might think that one advantage of top-down centrally managed vaccine allocation would be that vaccines would be rushed to the states that are suffering the worst plague at any given moment. “CDC director says Michigan can’t vaccinate its way out of COVID-19 surge” (ABC):

The answer to Michigan’s COVID-19 surge is “to close things down,” according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, not an increase in vaccine supply that the state’s governor and other public health experts have called for.

Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared her state a “COVID hotspot” as cases continue to rise and has asked the federal government to increase vaccines in response.

“I believe government’s role is, when we can’t take action to protect ourselves, the government must step in,” Whitmer said on Monday. “That’s where we were a year ago. That’s where we were four months ago. We’re in a different moment. Every one of us has the ability and knowledge to do what it takes.”

“If we try to vaccinate our way out of what is happening is Michigan, we will be disappointed it took so long for the vaccine to work,” said Walensky. “We know that if vaccines go in arms today, we will not see an effect of those vaccines, depending on the vaccine for somewhere between two to six weeks.”

(The comment shows that #Science is completely different in the UK and the US. In the UK, the two-dose vaccines work well enough after one shot that the second can be delayed (in order to maximize the number of people who get the first dose). In the U.S, a shot that is considered effective in the U.K. is considered useless until 6 weeks later (two weeks after the second shot.)

Meanwhile, the New York Times says that Michigan is unable to use the vaccine that it has been sent: “Ms. Whitmer has pleaded with the White House to send extra doses, even as her state has used just 78 percent of those delivered so far.” Maybe this is an example of “The war is not meant to be won. It is meant to be continuous.” (Screenplay for an adaptation of Orwell’s 1984). The federal government would rather see a governor closing schools, businesses, etc. than actually stop the virus. If not, though, refusing to send extra vaccine to an extra-plagued state seems to contradict common sense. Why not send vaccines and, if necessary, personnel qualified to deliver them, to the areas of the U.S. that are suffering from the highest case/death rate? Then wait two weeks (UK #Science) or six weeks (US #Science) for the plague to recede.

How about when there is no crisis? Can we still generate a mismatch between supply and demand? “Want a COVID shot now? You may have to leave the Bay Area” (Mercury News):

Anxious for a COVID shot? The state will open appointments up to everyone in another week, but you may not even have to wait that long — if you’re willing to drive a few extra miles to get the jab.

A handful of vaccination sites, faced with a surplus of shots, have opened their doors wide to all adults, regardless of age, employment status, medical history or where they live. All California adults 16 and older will be eligible starting April 15, but until then, demand for vaccinations and rules for who can get one vary widely from county to county and even clinic to clinic. That means finding an appointment has turned into something of an Easter egg hunt for determined Bay Area vaccine seekers, many of whom are too desperate to wait another week or worry shots will become even harder to come by once everyone in the state is eligible. Plus, the state has confirmed it expects its supply of vaccines to drop in the coming weeks, likely slowing first-dose appointments and adding to the anxiety.

UC Davis Medical Center this week began offering vaccines to all California residents 16 and older after as many as 1,500 appointments were going unused each day.

“We decided it was better to fill those appointments with people eager to be vaccinated, rather than leave slots unfilled as we waited for the calendar to turn to April 15,” spokeswoman Tricia Tomiyoshi wrote in an emailed statement. “Every vaccination is a step closer to ending this pandemic.”

It turns out that California state government, one of the most lavishly funded enterprises in human history, is no better at allocating scarce items than was the Soviet government. Thus, we have the scenes that Americans used to deride the Soviets for, e.g., people lining up once they hear that something is available, one traveling to obtain a scarce item for which a surplus exists somewhere else.

See also this Washington Post article on how vaccine doses are piling up in federal government warehouses (like at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark) because states, e.g., plague-ridden Michigan, aren’t ordering them (due to an inability to organize and use the vaccine doses that they already have). North Carolina didn’t order their vaccine doses because it was spring break and a worldwide emergency severe enough to shut down education, social life, work, gym, suspend the Constitution (e.g., First Amendment right to assemble), etc. wasn’t enough of an emergency to force a change of plans.

One might think that the above would shake Americans’ determination to expand the size and role of the government, but instead the opposite seems to be occurring. It is a mystery to me!

(On the other hand, we could also argue that the toilet paper, paper towel, and hand sanitizer shortages of spring 2020 show that the market economy can’t cope either. The big stores weren’t willing to raise prices such that the market cleared in an Econ 101 fashion. To sell Charmin at 2-3X the regular price would have tarnished their reputation via an accusation of price gouging and profiteering. On the other hand, paper towels and toilet paper were never truly unavailable here in the Boston area. We had to buy brands we weren’t familiar with and in small quantities, e.g., at CVS and the local small grocery store, because the big box stores were sold out at their regular prices.)


  • American central planners tackle vaccine scarcity (December 31, 2020): I wonder if something more like a market economy could have done this better. The bureaucrats can send free vaccine doses to hospitals, medical and dental offices, and nursing homes. Whatever is left over goes to whatever clinic or facility bids the highest. The bidding process is necessary to ensure that clinics that have the most streamlined and efficient procedures are the ones who will get the vaccine and also to ensure that clinics won’t let doses get spoiled or expire. … At least to judge by my Facebook feed, there are a lot of suburban white and Asian Americans who feel that the cost of lockdown is negligible. They’re happy to work from home (4,000 to 6,000 square feet), order deliveries, refrain from socializing in person. These folks don’t need a vaccine because if the government recommends that they stay home for the next 5 years they will cheerfully comply. But, on the other hand, there is no central database of the Happily Shutdown. Thus, the market would be the best way to keep these folks from clogging up the vaccine line. They know that they’ll be home for another year or two, so why should they pay $500 for a shot? They’ll wait for the price to come down to $100.
  • “Nearly 40% of Marines decline COVID-19 vaccine, prompting some Democrats to urge Biden to set mandate for military” (USA Today)

16 thoughts on “Vaccine misallocations only increase Americans’ faith in bigger government?

  1. “we have the scenes that Americans used to deride the Soviets for”

    That’s what happens when over-educated fools keep electing Bolsheviks (or, sorry, Democrats, my bad, though I fail to see any difference). The place where over-educated fools live becomes mini-USSR. Surprise.

  2. According to the London papers, people in former E Germany have been able to recycle old jokes from the GDR era:

    “Are there no vaccinations here?”
    “No, there are no tests here. There are no vaccinations over there.”

  3. Retail, one of the closest thing to free market that can be found in the USA, handled shortages with great ease. I, due to usually buying for weeks ahead, never felt any shortages of anything. But there were days when those who buy for several days, had to buy an expensive stake instead of chicken breast, along with wrong label of TP. This not even to close to what I endured in a planned economy for first decades of my life, no comparison whatsoever. Coronaplague deficit of April 2020 would look like a cornucopia from planned economy that I lived in.

  4. > piling up in federal government warehouses (like at the end of Indiana Jones)

    To be clear, this is the end of the first Indiana Jones movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark

  5. The Israeli government seems to have done quite well in distributing the vaccine. My understanding is that about everyone there has been vaccinated including foreigners — the foreigners part I know from direct knowledge. Israel is a lot smaller than the US but is about the size of New Jersey with a population about the same as NJ’s — my guess though is that it has done a lot better than NJ. Might be interesting to understand why.

    • The Israeli government made a big bet by ordering vaccines early (against expert advice!) and, since the vaccines actually did get authorized (not “approved”), we can say they “did well” in this respect. But once the vaccines were on the ground in Israel I think it is possible that a privately run distribution scheme might have worked just as well. Super-Pharm (like CVS) has 258 locations in Israel. In theory the hospitals are mostly private, says Wikipedia, run by the “Kupot Holim” (HMOs; sort of like Kaiser). But there are only for Kupot Holim so these are at least government-regulated if not directly run by the government.

      These HMOs are credited with doing most of the distribution.

      So… Israel is not really a success story for “government does it all”

      (Note that Kaiser actually has more members than the population of Israel. I’m assuming that Kaiser did a competent job at vaccinating its members with whatever doses the government central planners allocated to it.)

  6. > “I believe government’s role is, when we can’t take action to protect ourselves, the government must step in,”

    This would make an interesting starting point for Whitmer’s views on the 2nd Amendment. See, if you *can’t* protect yourself, the government *must* step in.

    I also love how: “get the jab” has become common usage in America. Isn’t that the British way of saying it?

    Of course, the CDC knows who will suffer in Michigan with another round of lockdowns, especially now that we’re in the fullness of Spring. It will tank another few thousand businesses, so that they have to fire more people, who will never go back to work and can’t protect themselves, so the government will HAVE to step in !

    Also today the Biden Administration stopped the dist. of J&J vaccine based on a literally more than a million number of people who have had blood clotting – even though no connection has been proved. But that will further constrain vaccine supply, and it will make lockdowns once again the only available alternative for the government to “step in with.”

    • Sorry, literally less than than a one in a million chance … Why on Earth would the Biden Administration stop vaccinating people with something that is only causing serious complications in < one person per million? In the entire United States that would only be a tiny number, certainly worth the risk of all the preventable deaths! even if a link could be established.

    • All of the patients with blood clots associated with the JnJ vaccine were young women. If they didn’t have comorbidities, then the one-in-a-million chance of dying from the vaccine could actually be higher than the zero-in-a-million chance that a healthy young person has of dying from COVID. That said, I’m also surprised that they stopped it over that. Maybe it’s the fact that the AstraZeneca vaccine has been tied to blood clots in multiple other countries with much more data. Maybe they have more suspected cases than just the 6. We’ll see what the government decides to let us know.

  7. Omigod… u read my mind. I am locked down, working from home. Not allowed to socialize. I definitly dont need a vaccine!!! For what! Also, i live in the suburbs in the middle of COVIDPARANOIA. Really, could run up to and kiss everyone I see and not get COVID… so few cases, and everyone is WASPY followi ng rules and upper middle class cautious.

  8. Here in Washington State, eligibility is still restricted to most, but opening up late this week. Our Canadian coworkers weep at where they are at in comparison to our slow roll.

    The City of Seattle is keeping all mass site reservations locked down with special invites only for specific zip codes that are not affluent, or sharing links with historically disadvantaged groups to get reservations.

    Meanwhile, the federal government is running a FEMA site 2 hours away from Seattle, over the Cascade mountains, where anyone of age is eligible, federal supplies, not state, and there is very little demand – plenty of people have already received the vaccine. Designed to help get farm workers and others in the region decimated by COVID vaccinated, it’s worked well, but there’s just too much supply.

    End result? There’s a nice line of Tesla’s Autopiloting on highway I-90 every day to Yakima, full of Seattle residents, because the city is holding back all the supply. Wild times.

    Strange times.

    • Basically in Seattle among the people I know everyone who wanted the vaccine already got the first dose. Some indeed drove to Yakima. 😀

  9. > The big stores weren’t willing to raise prices such that the market cleared in an Econ 101 fashion.

    A lot of retailers are constrained by anti-price-gouging laws, under the theory that it’s better to have their citizens go without than to have their citizens pay too much.

  10. “The answer to Michigan’s COVID-19 surge is “to close things down,” according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, not an increase in vaccine supply that the state’s governor and other public health experts have called for.”

    So they keep closing things down even though that hasn’t worked. Also did they forget that “flattening the curve” didn’t mean fewer cases but the cases spread out over a longer time period?

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