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The Government’s Failed COVID Policies

Brian Blase
PresidentatParagon Health Institute

Brian Blase, Ph.D., is the President of Paragon Health Institute. Brian was Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy at the White House’s National Economic Council (NEC) from 2017-2019, where he coordinated the development and execution of numerous health policies and advised the President, NEC director, and senior officials. After leaving the White House, Brian founded Blase Policy Strategies and serves as its CEO.

Today’s newsletter highlights three recent pieces related to the government’s COVID-19 response. The first two are by Dr. Joel Zinberg, the director of Paragon’s Public Health and American Well-Being Initiative, and pertain to two ongoing problems: the government’s decision to waste taxpayer funds by eschewing a private market mechanism to allocate vaccine boosters and the CDC’s problematic guidance related to childhood vaccinations. The last is a piece that I authored about my family’s relocation to Florida during the pandemic—a journey shared by tens of thousands of other families who also decided to leave lockdown states. 
“The Bivalent Booster Boondoggle”
Operation Warp Speed was a major accomplishment, creating new vaccines for a novel virus in an unprecedented 10 months. Unfortunately, the Biden administration’s COVID vaccine procurement and distribution policy has become increasingly inefficient and wasteful. 
On October 25, The Wall Street Journal published “The Bivalent Booster Boondoggle,” a piece Joel wrote about the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of two bivalent COVID-19 boosters for use in young children. According to Joel, “Neither shot is likely to find many takers, but that won’t stop the Biden administration from wasting billions of dollars buying them.”
As Joel explained, the government continues to disregard market mechanisms that match supply with consumer demand in favor of a government monopoly that buys vaccines that relatively few people want. Over 82 million doses of the vaccine were wasted between December 2020 and May 2022. 
Demand for additional vaccines or for the newly authorized bivalent boosters will likely be low since people recognize that the COVID risk is increasingly small—with declining cases and a low death rate since May. Less than 10 percent of people eligible for the new boosters have taken them since they were first authorized two months ago. Yet, despite this understandably scant demand, the Biden administration has purchased 170 million doses of the boosters and is asking Congress for $22 billon to buy even more.
Demand for boosters, newly authorized by the FDA for children aged 5 through 11, will be even lower. Children are at low risk of severe COVID illness and, unsurprisingly, fewer than one-third of this age group has completed the primary vaccination series that would make them eligible for bivalent boosters.
Joel sensibly concluded, “It’s time for the government to release its monopoly on the purchase and distribution of vaccines and let the private market do what it does best: aligning supply with the American people’s demand for goods they will actually use.”
The CDC’s latest premature and counterproductive action
In the National Review on October 25, Joel wrote about the CDC’s independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and its vote to add COVID-19 vaccines to the childhood, adolescent, and adult immunization schedules. These schedules are not law but are very influential, particularly for states and localities that have vaccine requirements for school attendance.
Joel noted that the COVID vaccines are mostly helpful in reducing the severity of infection, rather than in preventing infection—unlike most other recommended childhood vaccines. But severe infection is not a concern for the vast majority of young people. Joel explained, “Outside of people who are immune-suppressed or have underlying medical problems, the risk of death from Covid for young people is negligible.” Joel also writes that “the safety profile for the vaccines in young people is not yet fully known. Authorization of the original vaccines for younger age groups is only a few months old. And trials for the new bivalent vaccines—recently authorized for children as young as five years old—have not yet been completed.”
The CDC/ACIP-approved schedules will put pressure on states and localities to mandate these vaccines in children. Joel predicted: “This will likely create unnecessary strife and outrage among parents who, over the course of the pandemic, have come to doubt the reliability and clarity of CDC pronouncements. The vote and announcement were premature and counterproductive. But, unfortunately, that is what we have come to expect from the agency.”
“From the White House to the White Sands”
The James Madison Institute, a free-market research center in Florida, asked me to write a short essay on why my wife and I decided to move our family of seven from the DC suburbs to Florida. My essay appeared in The Journal a few weeks ago. 
In short, there were many reasons to move to Florida (including beautiful weather, no state income tax, and proximity to the beach), but we never would have moved without the pandemic and specifically Northern Virginia’s lockdowns and policy irrationality. Fairfax County’s decision to keep the schools shuttered for the 2020-2021 school year and continue the disastrous virtual learning was a breaking point for us. I wrote about the reasons for our frustration:

[T]he data became clear about a few critical aspects: 1) the extremely low risk faced by kids to the virus, particularly those without any underlying medical issues, 2) the harms to kids from social isolation, and 3) the profound lack of learning in that accompanied virtual school options for many students. Once those realities became apparent, all efforts should have been made to open schools and get kids back to normal activities and socialization. Instead, fear continued to rain down on children. Kids no longer played outside with their friends and turned to endless hours on electronic devices to pass the time.

Fortunately, there were places in the country that bucked the guidance and dictates of the public health establishment. Florida pursued the sensible policy of targeting protective measures for those most vulnerable to the virus while keeping schools and businesses open. I wrote: 

Florida prioritized kids and families, properly following the science and balancing the totality of considerations in life. Young families and kids in Florida were spared from so much scarring, including social isolation and loss of learning, that millions of other families and kids from across the country were forced to endure. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 1,060,000 people moved from one state to another between the summer of 2020 and the summer of 2021. Of this group, Florida gained 220,000 more people than it lost. California and New York—two of the states with the most severe lockdowns— each had more than 350,000 people, on net, move to other states that year.

See you after the midterms, which will likely have implications for health and budget policy in the years ahead. 

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