Collective action problems with testing and vaccines

About testing, Megan McArdle writes:

The high rate of false negatives means that testing provides the most protection when it’s deployed at the population level. At the group level, it’s only a weak, adjunct tactic to other precautions. And at the individual level, it’s borderline useless.

it depends on the test of course (I think she is too negative on the individual test), but the general point is well taken.  So basically, in the Straussian sense, one might wish to exaggerate the private (and social) benefits of testing.

Alternatively, consider vaccines.  If thousands of people use a vaccine early and it goes badly, that might lead to adverse publicity for vaccines in general.  If only one person uses a vaccine early, and keels over dead, probably it goes unnoticed.

So for vaccines in the early, still quite unsafe stage, the Straussian might wish to exaggerate the risks, to limit the number of those trying it (whether on grey or black markets or flying to China, or whatever).  All the more reason to talk up testing.

Once vaccines are confirmed as safe enough, there are increasing returns to spreading the vaccines in a particular area.  One person getting vaccinated won’t materially lower R, but half of the community being vaccinated will drive R well below one, allowing most economic activity to resume normally.

So the Straussian will wish to exaggerate the private (and social) benefits of getting the vaccine, at least once a certain security is present about vaccine safety.

That is a lot of Straussian tightrope walking to be done!


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