The moral imperative now is to get vaccination done quickly. The new year will usher in a rolling recovery, in which relief will move in waves across the nation. The entire time, Americans may struggle to maintain their composure—as the inevitable snafus happen; as healthy working-age adults who are eager to resume their pre-pandemic lives realize that tens or hundreds of millions of people are ahead of them in the vaccine line; as the pandemic goes on killing, day after day.
Derek Thompson: Go home now
The United States is about to undergo a vaccination campaign at a speed never before attempted, and Americans aren’t used to seeing public policy scale up this quickly. In the short term, the rollout of the vaccine will be constrained by how quickly pharmaceutical companies can manufacture it. Public policy will have to address four other distinct challenges: the need for public agencies to determine which groups get the vaccine first; varying demand for it, due to deep misgivings about it in some quarters and outright propagandizing against it in others; the difficulties of mass-distributing vaccines that need to be kept at temperatures as low as –70 degrees Celsius; and the data-management challenge of keeping track of who has and hasn’t been vaccinated.
All year, well-meaning health experts have urged Americans to follow the science. But in the year ahead, science will have little to do with our pandemic response. Vaccine distribution is all about logistics, and government officials must level with an impatient public: Bulk delivery is often imperfect, so manage your expectations accordingly.
President Donald Trump minimized these challenges before the election. His insistence that the military would distribute the vaccine was a Trumpian deus ex machina—a very complex problem would have an easy solution that just reveals itself in the final act of the drama. In reality, the military and National Guard can assist with delivery, makeshift public-health capacity, and security. But they won’t run the operation, which will primarily be a hometown effort. State public-health systems will manage the stockpile delivery, working in coordination with the federal government, private business, health-care facilities, and volunteers.
Nothing will be simple. That health-care workers need the vaccine first seems largely uncontroversial. But such a broad priority contains the seeds of disagreement. Should back-office administrators who seldom interact with patients or medical staff receive priority over teachers or grocery workers? Seemingly low-risk individuals will fall into priority categories, and higher-risk people out of them, based on the sheer necessity of simply drawing a line somewhere.
Yascha Mounk: Your individually rational choice is collectively disastrous