The United States has done something amazing: developed and authorized three new vaccines and vaccinated half of its adult population, all within 17 months of learning of a new disease, Covid-19. Yet vaccine demand is falling—daily doses administered have been declining for the past seven weeks. There are now fewer doses administered each day than on the day
took office. Almost one-fifth of unvaccinated people, in a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, say they definitely won’t get the shot or will only do so if required.
This is neither surprising nor concerning. People respond to risk. Year after year, less than half of the U.S. population chooses to be vaccinated for the seasonal flu. The primary reasons Americans give for skipping the shots are safety concerns and doubts about the effectiveness and need for vaccination. People cite the same concerns about the Covid-19 vaccines.
The demand for vaccines is determined by people weighing the benefits of vaccines (decreasing the probability of serious illness, hospitalization and death) against the risks (side effects, known and potentially unknown).
Demand for vaccination, reflected by daily doses administered, is waning as the risk of disease decreases. By early April, a study by the Competitive Enterprise Institute found the level of vaccine immunity in the population—19% fully immunized, 32% receiving at least one dose—plus a likely 200 million people with natural immunity from Covid-19 infection and recovery, was enough to decrease transmission of Covid-19 significantly and put herd immunity in sight. Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths declined, resulting in a decreased willingness of unvaccinated people to be inoculated.
Covid-19 disease severity is closely correlated with advancing age. People under 18 account for 0.1% of Covid-19 deaths. People under 50 comprise two-thirds of the U.S. population, but only 4.7% of Covid-19 deaths. Those 65 and older account for more than 80% of the deaths.
By mid-April, two-thirds of high-risk, high-demand people—age 65 and older—were fully vaccinated, and 80% had received at least one dose, which offers nearly as much protection as full vaccination. Unsurprisingly, subsequent vaccine demand fell, driven by younger people for whom Covid-19 generally represents the risk of a bad case of the flu. For many of them, the risks of vaccination, albeit small, outweigh the benefits.
Barring a new variant that eludes current vaccines, demand for vaccines will continue to decline. As of late May, the vulnerable elderly are almost completely protected. Future demand will likely be confined to younger people with risk-enhancing medical conditions or those required to be vaccinated by schools or other institutions. This isn’t a problem since a large part of the community, particularly those most susceptible to severe disease, is now immune. The innovative U.S. economy created, manufactured and administered enough vaccines to put the pandemic behind us.
Dr. Zinberg is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a professor at New York’s Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine.
Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Appeared in the June 2, 2021, print edition.