Vaccine hesitancy remains widespread in the land. Government can and should help combat it, but with rational incentives — not bullying and mandates.
Many Americans don’t want the vaccines. Their reasons vary. Some are afraid they’re dangerous. Others are young and healthy and figure they aren’t at much risk. Still others are wary of the elite institutions pushing vaccination. These institutions have only themselves to blame, what with their high-handed censorship and brazen flip-flops (remember when any public gatherings would invite a COVID holocaust, except Black Lives Matter riots, which were deemed positively mandatory by health bureaucrats?).
The establishment’s response to this resistance is to tighten the screws with mandates and vaccine passports, combined with condescending assurances about the vaccines’ safety. But if officials want people to take those assurances seriously, they should pass laws that will make people whole in the (very rare) cases they’re injured by the vaccines.
Right now, a lot of vaccine critics argue that the various COVID-19 vaccines are “experimental.” That isn’t entirely wrong. The vaccines haven’t yet received full Food and Drug Administration approval, a process that normally takes many years of testing for a vaccine.
Instead, people are getting jabbed with these products under a law that allows the FDA to green-light “countermeasures” that haven’t been approved through the normal process. Meanwhile, the FDA and the manufacturers are gathering information about the vaccines’ safety as they’re rolled out. So while they’re not exactly “experimental,” we are learning as we go along.
That’s not so bad. The rapid production of these vaccines through Team Trump’s Operation Warp Speed was a huge triumph. And by all appearances, all the vaccines are quite safe — and highly effective at preventing serious illness and death.
But as several people I know have said, the folks pushing the vaccines won’t be there for them if they have a bad experience, which can, as with any vaccine, lead to death or lifelong disability. Those folks will just tut-tut and assure us that such side effects are very rare.
Well, the rareness of side effects is cold comfort for those few who suffer them. You know what could give comfort? Money.
Vaccine manufacturers are usually protected from liability by the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Instead of being liable for potentially huge damages in court, the manufacturers are given immunity, and injured people can apply to the VICP for compensation. The process is rather bureaucratic and the compensation not very generous, especially compared with what you might win in a personal-injury lawsuit.
But Congress concluded that since vaccines generally aren’t very profitable, manufacturers would have no incentive to manufacture them if they weren’t shielded from liability. Hence the compensation program.
But the VICP doesn’t apply to emergency “countermeasures” like the COVID vaccines. There’s a different — and even less generous — compensation scheme there, along with extensive protections against liability for manufacturers, doctors, pharmacists and the like.
So when people say that they’re being asked to take an unapproved vaccine without much in the way of compensation if something goes wrong, they’re basically right. So what do we do? The government should put its money where its mouth is.
We change the rules to make people feel safe. In the case of ordinary vaccines, manufacturers need an incentive to enter the market. In the case of these vaccines, ordinary people need an incentive to enter the market. So let’s provide ordinary people with some incentives.
A special “COVID Injury Compensation Fund” paying much higher damages to injured people might fit the bill. The ordinary vaccine-compensation program caps damages at $250,000 for death and disability. A COVID fund might award sums of $1 million for death or disability, plus lost income and medical expenses; a million is a round number that should reassure people.
The vaccines are generally safe, so the expenses involved will be low, especially by comparison with today’s breakneck federal spending. Mandates and hectoring will only render the already-suspicious even more so. The far better route is a well-tailored incentive scheme that seeks to assuage the hesitant — without insulting their intelligence.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the InstaPundit.com blog.