The COVID vaccine free-rider problem
The science is clear: the COVID vaccines greatly reduce the spread of the coronavirus. But some Americans are suspicious of the vaccine, and view the issue in terms of personal choice and freedom. If the number who refuse vaccinations is small, the entire nation will still enjoy the benefits of the vaccine effort: the ability to fully re-emerge from the pandemic. But if too many go unvaccinated, we remain vulnerable to a resurgence of the virus (as I write this, the new omicron variant has scientists concerned) — and all that potentially goes with it: reimposed lockdowns, masking and distancing mandates, etc. There is also the possibility that the virus’s mutation could produce a new variant against which the current vaccines are ineffective…which would put us all right back at square one.
What should society do about people who won’t vaccinate? Do their personal freedoms outweigh the public health needs of the rest of society? Do we count on altruism to get enough of us vaccinated? Do we incentivize it, using the market to achieve the desired end? Or should the power of the state be used, in the form of vaccine mandates?
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