Opinion

Are we out of the woods yet?

The return to normal may just have to wait.

By: Date: December 14, 2020 Topic: Macroeconomic policy

This opinion piece was originally published on Kathimerini.

Finally, the vaccine is here. Stock markets have reacted exuberantly and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The confinement and isolation that have weighed on old and young alike will come to an end and the economy can rebound back from its semi-comatose state. We can then all go back to business as usual.

Not so fast. Four in 10 doctors in Belgium, the country where I reside, are not themselves keen to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Similar results have been found also in the UK. It is likely that such concerns exist in other countries as well.

These doctors are not vaccine deniers. Their objection is that the vaccine, despite all the money, effort and best science dedicated to it, has simply not passed the test of time.

If you ask your friends, your colleagues, both older and younger, if they will get vaccinated against COVID-19, you will not get a clear answer. We may need 70% of the population to be vaccinated for herd immunity to be achieved.. Globally, that means that more than 5 billion people need to be vaccinated.

This is undoubtedly one of the biggest logistics challenges ever. And while the production and distribution of the vaccine is part of that, it is surprisingly not the only one. When doctors themselves, who are crucial for providing information and advice to the population, are sceptical in quite such high numbers, how can we expect to achieve a quick return to normal? More importantly, is the vaccine the solution we need it to be?

The more we hear the worries of others, the more it feels like we are witness to a tragedy of the commons: we need 70% of the population to be vaccinated, but I would rather be at the 30%, at least till we learn more about the vaccine.

While we were preparing for shortages and huge queues outside vaccination centres, we might end up seeing exactly the opposite: a surplus of vaccines and a shortage of demand.

As with other examples of the tragedy of the commons, government regulation is called on to protect the public good. However, when it comes to vaccines, particularly such new vaccines, there are ethical issues that prevent their compulsory administration.

There has been some discussion of soft enforcement through exclusion. In other words, only granting vaccinated groups access to certain events or spaces. But such softer measures run contrary to the 70% threshold. And they may not really be enforceable and might only achieve social unrest.

But what is then left? Communication and persuasion? No. We cannot ignore such a large minority. Either there is a point to the concerns of these four out of 10 doctors, in which case attempts to rush and persuade are synonymous with deceit, or these doctors do not have a point in which case why are they objecting at quite such high numbers?

What is greater, the premium for waiting or the cost of an unsafe vaccine? On second thoughts, we might not be in a tragedy of the commons, as it is not clear what serves the public good better. It goes without saying that it is science that provides the answers. But it is just not clear that it has already.

I fear that the return to normal may just have to wait.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to [email protected].

Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

External Publication

Country case studies on resolving problem loans in Europe: Crises, policies and institutions

Contribution to 'Nonperforming Loans in Asia and Europe—Causes, Impacts, and Resolution Strategies' published by the Asia Development Bank.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: Banking and capital markets Date: December 3, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

Fiscal policy and rules after the pandemic

What are the possibilities for shaping the new fiscal policy?

Speakers: Zsolt Darvas, Maria Demertzis, Michel Heijdra and Katja Lautar Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: November 24, 2021
Read article More by this author
 

Blog Post

Fiscal arithmetic and risk of sovereign insolvency

The record-high debt levels in advanced economies increase the risk of sovereign insolvency. Governments should start fiscal consolidation soon in an environment of low nominal and real interest rates and post-COVID growth.

By: Marek Dabrowski Topic: Global economy and trade, Macroeconomic policy Date: November 18, 2021
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

Pandemonium

How did Europe respond to the pandemic?

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European governance Date: November 17, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

Phasing out COVID-19 emergency support programmes: effects on productivity and financial stability

How can European countries phase out the COVID-19 support measures without having a negative impact on productivity and financial stability?

Speakers: Eric Bartelsman, Maria Demertzis, Peter Grasmann and Laurie Mayers Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: November 9, 2021
Read article Download PDF
 

Policy Contribution

European governance

COVID-19 financial aid and productivity: has support been well spent?

While support schemes during the pandemic were not targeted at protecting ‘good’ firms, financial support mostly went to those with the capacity to survive and succeed. Labour schemes have been effective in protecting employment.

By: Carlo Altomonte, Maria Demertzis, Lionel Fontagné and Steffen Müller Topic: European governance, Macroeconomic policy Date: November 4, 2021
Read article
 

Blog Post

European governanceInclusive growth

The socioeconomic effects of COVID-19 on women

The pandemic has disproportionately affected women both professionally and at home. Although the gender gap in labour force participation since the onset of the pandemic hasn't worsened, policy still needs to tackle existing gender gaps, which for some EU countries are very substantive.

By: Maria Demertzis and Mia Hoffmann Topic: European governance, Inclusive growth Date: November 3, 2021
Read article More on this topic
 

External Publication

Elimination versus mitigation of SARS-CoV-2 in the presence of effective vaccines

Article published in Lancet Global Heath on strategies to end the COVID-19 pandemic in the presence of effective vaccines.

By: Miquel Oliu-Barton and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global economy and trade Date: November 3, 2021
Read article
 

Blog Post

European governance

Is the risk of stagflation real?

Most economic forecasts predict a return, in the medium-term, to pre-pandemic growth and inflation. Nevertheless, the European Central Bank and fiscal authorities need to be vigilant for signs of the contrary.

By: Monika Grzegorczyk, Francesco Papadia and Pauline Weil Topic: European governance, Macroeconomic policy Date: November 2, 2021
Read article More on this topic
 

Blog Post

Strong, balanced, sustainable and inclusive growth? The G20 and the pandemic

The G20 is not doing enough to support strong, balanced, sustainable and inclusive growth in the wake of COVID-19, with the poorest countries left behind by the recovery.

By: Suman Bery and Pauline Weil Topic: Global economy and trade Date: October 29, 2021
Read article Download PDF
 

Parliamentary Testimony

European ParliamentInclusive growth

Understanding the socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on women

Testimony before the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) on the consequences of the pandemic on women.

By: Maria Demertzis and Mia Hoffmann Topic: European Parliament, Inclusive growth, Macroeconomic policy Date: October 27, 2021
Read article More by this author
 

Blog Post

European governance

Pandemic prevention: avoiding another cycle of ‘panic and neglect’

Agreement is needed at international level on mechanisms to ensure better preparedness for the next pandemic.

By: Anne Bucher Topic: European governance, Global economy and trade Date: October 7, 2021
Load more posts