“Have you been able to sign up to be vaccinated yet?”
This is the first question my father asks me when we talk every week. At 83, he’s anxious to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and he is frustrated.
Sorry, try again later
He followed all the instructions provided to him by local public health officials, and, after registering through their online portal, he was told that he is in “Group 4,” people who are considered the lowest priority for the vaccine. He called the health department and asked why, and he was told the portal was mistaken. He was provided a link to make an appointment.
He followed that link and learned that no appointments were available. A friend told him she’d gotten an appointment seventy miles away, so he searched sites further from home. Still no luck.
Meanwhile, my mother-in-law (who is a bit younger, but works in an optical shop, so is considered a healthcare worker) received her first shot weeks ago. But, just before her appointment for a second dose, she was warned there wouldn’t be enough vaccine available.
This is success?
They all live in a state that is seventh in terms of the percentage of people who have received one shot. Being seventh out of fifty states is impressive, but that same state is only seventeenth in the percentage of people who have received a second shot.
Last week, President Biden announced plans to increase the supply of vaccines and to improve transparency. My family members are less concerned about how they get those vaccinations than that they get vaccinated. But the two things are related. We should all hope efforts to vaccinate many more people, as quickly as possible, succeed, but it’s worth asking whether we could do better.
Starbucks vs. Health and Human Services
Federal agencies with lots of bureaucracy will always struggle to meet individual needs efficiently. Yet, many people who always question government’s role in problem-solving are willing to consider that this may be one time that only government has the authority and power to move effectively. In the links below, you’ll find two pro-market thinkers who carefully considered this possibility, but, after looking at the data and how badly it’s failing, they believe we would have been better off with some market-based approaches to rolling out the vaccine.
And apparently, government agrees. In Washington state, the governor asked Starbucks, a company that knows a little something about the complications of distribution, to advise on the logistics of getting residents vaccinated.
Hundreds of millions of people need a vaccine, and, like any problem of this scale, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. The sheer numbers might suggest large, top-down authority is the best, but when it comes to ensuring that my parents or my friends get vaccinations as soon as possible, relying on state portals that make inexplicable mistakes seems dangerous. This week, while you wait for your turn to get vaccinated, we’ve got five links that will provide answers to questions about the vaccine and the plans to distribute it. We’ve also included some articles that made us think carefully about how to solve this important and frustrating situation.
5 links worth your time
- See How the Vaccine Rollout Is Going in Your State, The New York Times – Updated daily, this map and accompanying state-by-state breakdown provides quick data about the percentage of the population in each state that has received first and second shots. Also documented are doses distributed, shots given, and percentage of doses used. West Virginia is leading all other U.S. states with 3.7 percent of their population having received both doses.
- Would Markets Have Handled the Vaccine Rollout Better Than Government? Cato Institute – Scott Lincicome, a senior fellow in economic studies at Cato Institute, takes an in-depth look into the vaccine rollout and how well (or not) it has gone. He provides links to other sources and lots of background information in this thoughtful analysis.
- Biden’s First Three Steps to Getting COVID-19 Vaccines to Every American, Time – President Biden has moved quickly to address the vaccination rollout challenges, increasing minimum weekly shipments to states from 8.6 million to 10 million. Here, you can read about the rest of his plans and also link to the White House statement to read more detail. This article also reviews the press conference by the federal government’s COVID-19 response team following President Biden’s announcement.
- Free Markets Beat Central Planning, Even for COVID-19 Tests and Vaccines, National Review – Dr. John Cochrane, author of “The Grumpy Economist” blog and former University of Chicago professor, argues that free markets don’t need to be perfect, they just need to be better than the alternatives. And in the case of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, he believes they would outperform the government.
- COVID in Tallahassee: The Vaccine, Village SquareCast – You don’t have to live in Tallahassee to get value from this podcast episode from our friends at The Village Square. That just happens to be where they’re headquartered, but you’ll find this incredibly informative episode to answer all your questions (and some you haven’t considered) about the vaccine. Two national experts respond to rumors, worries, and requests for clarification.
Photo by Markus Mainka on Adobe Stock