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A crazy idea: Tell the truth

Summary:
Whenever I have advocated a different Covid vaccine policy, people tell me that there was a risk that my ideas would lead to a loss of confidence among the public.  This never made sense to me.  Wouldn’t the public have more confidence in authorities if they told the truth and did what is best? More specifically, I advocated that the US adopt a “first-dose-first” policy, that we approve the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, and I opposed the halt in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.  This is also the approach taken by the UK.  Despite this bold and honest approach, the UK seems to have far lower levels of vaccine hesitancy than other developed countries.  Or is it because of this bold and honest approach? You might wonder if the British people are different, less reluctant to

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Whenever I have advocated a different Covid vaccine policy, people tell me that there was a risk that my ideas would lead to a loss of confidence among the public.  This never made sense to me.  Wouldn’t the public have more confidence in authorities if they told the truth and did what is best?

More specifically, I advocated that the US adopt a “first-dose-first” policy, that we approve the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, and I opposed the halt in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.  This is also the approach taken by the UK.  Despite this bold and honest approach, the UK seems to have far lower levels of vaccine hesitancy than other developed countries.  Or is it because of this bold and honest approach?

You might wonder if the British people are different, less reluctant to take vaccines in general.  Not so:

About 26 percent of Americans say they won’t take a vaccine, according to an April 21-26 CNN poll. Getting the pandemic under control in the US could be challenging without their buy-in.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom vaccine hesitancy sits much lower; government polling shows it’s around 6 percent. This is not necessarily because the British are inherently more enthusiastic about vaccination. Last summer, a poll found that 75 percent of Americans and 71 percent of British people were open to taking a vaccine if one existed and was recommended by their government.

The British public has good reason to trust their authorities on Covid vaccines, as they have mostly avoided game playing and instead dealt with vaccine issues in an honest and straightforward fashion:

One of the tactics that distinguishes the UK from the US, and much of the world, is its approach to regulation and public communication in response to bad news about the vaccines. It’s an approach that could well have helped develop greater public trust in the vaccines.

“In the UK, the medical communication has been pretty excellent,” David Comerford, an economist at the University of Stirling’s Behavioural Science Centre in the UK who researches vaccine hesitancy, told me. He focused particularly on how UK authorities reacted to and communicated about rare complications involving the vaccines that came out in news reports.

The vaccine has become so popular in the UK that even the right wing populist press is strongly in favor, as this article from the Daily Mirror Mail demonstrates:

A crazy idea: Tell the truth

PS.  One wonders how things in America might have been different if the GOP had decided that the way to show loyalty to Trump was to encourage the use of the vaccine his administration championed, rather than to agree with his dubious theories of a stolen election.

Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment". In May 2012, Chicago Fed President Charles L. Evans became the first sitting member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to endorse the idea.

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