Economic analysis: the state should neither impose vaccines nor ban workplace mandates

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Data from the Indiana State Department of Health indicates that we are in the midst of a new wave of COVID infections. At this rate, college freshmen enrolled in fall 2020 could graduate without ever having known a classroom without masks!

However, recent data from the ISDH gives a glimmer of hope. On December 6, 2020, the peak of last year’s wave, the number of newly reported COVID infections on a seven-day moving average, reached 6,888 per day. On December 6, 2021, which also appears to be at or near the peak of this wave, the seven-day moving average of new infections was 4,842. Even better news: The daily moving average of deaths on December 6 was 93 ; this year it was 32.

Around the same time last year, vaccines had just been made available. As of this writing, data from the New York Times showed that 85% of Hoosiers over 65 are fully vaccinated, as are 60% of those over 12. This is undoubtedly the main reason why new cases and deaths are lower in December 2021 than in December 2020.

Economic theory suggests that private market incentives are sufficient to encourage the correct consumption of goods like apples, underwear, and coffee cups. Indeed, the benefits of consuming apples, underwear, and coffee cups accrue almost exclusively to the individual consumer.

This is not the case with COVID vaccines. The vaccinated person receives significant protection against COVID. But the thousands of other people who come in contact with the vaccinated person also have advantages: they are less likely to be infected. The presence and magnitude of these “external” benefits have long made immunization a case study where government subsidies could improve market outcomes. Indeed, free COVID vaccines are based on this.

If free vaccines get us to a 60% vaccination rate, what about the minority of Hoosiers who resist getting vaccinated? We don’t have a good answer. In our humble opinion, in a free society it is not acceptable for health workers to prey on vaccine-reluctant people and put needles in their arms. On the other hand, the freedom also includes the freedom for employers to demand that their employees be vaccinated.

The state should continue to make the vaccine readily available, educate and encourage people to get vaccinated. However, the state should neither force vaccines on employers nor prohibit employers from requiring a COVID vaccine as a condition of employment. This is how freedom works! •

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Bohanon and Curott are professors of economics at Ball State University. Send your comments to [email protected]


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