Safetyism Kills

I argued in a previous post that the vaccine rollout was based on safetyism, not science. Safetyism led to the belief that everyone should get vaccinated, regardless of age or natural immunity. It led to the belief that booster shots are needed. And it led to the belief that people have to be strong-armed, rather than persuaded.

A vaccine rollout based on science would have prioritised the elderly and clinically vulnerable, while recognising that young healthy people, and those with natural immunity, didn’t need to get vaccinated.

It would have also recognised that far more lives could be saved by allocating vaccines to vulnerable people in poor countries than by allocating them to young healthy people in rich countries. Unfortunately, however, safetyism prevailed.

Rich countries ended up buying nearly all the vaccines, and then wasted millions of doses on people who didn’t need them. Not only that, but they did so by means of coercive passports and mandates, which undermine trust in the health system.

The vast majority of people affected by these passports and mandates did not need to be vaccinated, and many of them already had natural immunity.

The Government could have said: ‘We’ve bought enough vaccines for everyone who’s over 50 or clinically vulnerable. If you’re in one of those groups, we strongly recommend you get vaccinated. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait, since vulnerable people in poor countries need vaccines more than you.’ But apparently that was too difficult.

The scale of rich countries’ vaccine-hoarding is laid bare in a recent chart published by the Financial Times. It shows that rich countries have administered more booster doses in the last three months than poor countries have administered total doses since their rollouts began.

The FT’s chart was retweeted thousands of times on Twitter. Ironically, many of the people who retweeted it were probably in favour of vaccinating the young. Newsflash: when vaccine production is limited, allocating doses is a zero-sum game.

By 1st June, around 90% of over 50s in England had been fully vaccinated (I’m using the original definition of that term, i.e., ‘received two vaccine doses’). Millions more people in their 30s and 40s had received at least one dose.

Yet between then and now, we’ve given out another 40 million doses, the vast majority to people who are young and healthy, who have prior immunity, or who’ve already been fully vaccinated! And the same is true of most other large, rich countries.

If all these countries had donated their surplus vaccines, or simply not bought them in the first place, there would have been many more available for poor countries. As a result, tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved. There’s a lesson here: safetyism kills.

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December 2022
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