Joe Biden, who during the campaign repeatedly insisted that he relied on “the science” in formulating policy proposals has just tossed science overboard. According to the Washington Post, a spokesman for the President-elect said that the incoming administration “…will release nearly every available dose of vaccine in the United States after Biden takes office Jan. 20 to get supplies quickly out to the states.”
The result of this policy change is to change the vaccination regimen so that the second shot—the booster shot—will be given 84 days after the first shot rather than the 21 to 28 days for which the vaccines were scientifically tested.
When Britain first proposed a three-month wait for the booster shot, scientists in the U.S., Europe and the World Health Organization were, in the words of the Washington Post, “dubious”. Earlier this week the FDA said such a move would be premature and “not rooted solidly in the evidence”. Moreover, the testing done so far suggests the efficacy of getting only 1 shot of the vaccine slips from 95% down to only 52%—a staggering fall.
But it allows Joe Biden to look like he is doing something, which of course, is the point of the exercise.
The proposed policy change is liable to do far more harm than good. The current policy is to put the most vulnerable and front line medical personnel first for the 2 shot regimen. The new policy will leave the most vulnerable more exposed to a fatal infection than they would have been otherwise, without necessarily doing anything to reduce the spread f the disease.
To the extent that more people have limited protection, but the most vulnerable have less, there is a greater likelihood that the most vulnerable will suffer more fatalities. But it doesn’t end there. Providing a broader range of the population with limited protection will in all likelihood protect people who don’t need it at the expense of people who do. Not only that, delaying the second shot, gives the virus more time to adapt. This increases the time that the virus has to adapt to the new (and weaker) vaccine and develop resistance to it.
The likely end result will be to (1) increase the fatality of the disease with older, more vulnerable populations, while (2) having little to no effect on the rest of the population and (3) delaying the onset of herd immunity.
But it will show that Joe Biden is doing something.
There actually is something that can be done about the slow rate of vaccine take-up. The first thing to do is to understand the problem, which is a logistics problem, not a supply problem. The most difficult part of any complex distribution network is the “last mile”. A bureaucratic command-and-control system implemented by government is the last way a complex distribution system should be engineered.
The obvious way to handle the problem is to go to people who are experts at this. They live in the private sector at places like Amazon, Walmart, CVS and the like. Having financed the development of the vaccines, which was a good idea, government should contract with the private sector to handle distribution. That would solve the problem, or at least improve distribution efficiency.
Unfortunately, it is also something that progressive control freaks are unlikely to do.