December 28, 2020 – The Washington Post tells us that 7.7 million first doses of vaccines have been shipped to date (two million shots have been given), with a target of 16 million by the end of the year. This is warp speed?
By comparison, we manage to get over 170 million flu shots in people’s arms every year, without any heroic efforts by the government and the military. Most of those doses are given over roughly a four-month period, which means a bit less than 1.5 million a day. That puts our flu shot delivery system ahead of Donald Trump’s warp speed. What the f**k?
Last week I wrote a piece asking why we didn’t have 400 million doses of vaccines on hand by the start of December. Of course production takes time, and we didn’t know back in the summer which vaccines would prove effective, but so what?
We could have started mass production of every vaccine that entered Phase 3 trials. If some of them proved to be ineffective, we would have wasted some money, but the cost would be trivial. The per shot cost of a vaccine is in the range of $2-$4. This means if we had to throw 200 million vaccines in the toilet, we would have wasted $800 million dollars, using the higher end estimate. That is less than 20 percent of the two-year cost of Donald Trump’s three martini lunch tax break and less than 1 percent of the size of the double-dip tax break, allowing companies to write off expenses that were reimbursed under the paycheck protection program.
Along with massive production of vaccines, they should have been pre-positioned to allow for faster distribution. We should have had major warehouses located around the country so that as soon as the FDA green-lighted a vaccine, it could quickly be delivered to hospitals and clinics in every corner of the country.
The basic point here is that we have two distinct processes. One is the manufacture and distribution of the vaccines. The other is the determination that they are safe and effective. These can go on simultaneously.
We should have been prepared to start inoculating millions of people the day a vaccine was approved. This is a massive policy failure, or as Donald Trump would say, #MAGA!
Dean Baker is senior economist at CEPR. His areas of research include housing and macroeconomics, intellectual property, Social Security, Medicare and European labor markets. He is the author of several books, including Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer. His blog, “Beat the Press,” provides commentary on economic reporting.