Mandated vaccine boosters for the AEA meetings?

Yes, the new AEA regulations will mandate vaccine boosters for attendance at the New Orleans meetings.  Not just two jabs but yes boosters, at least one of them.

Like the N-95 (or stronger) mask mandate, this seems off base and possibly harmful to public health as well.  Here are a few points:

1. The regulations valorize “booster with an older strain,” and count “infection with a recent strain” for nothing.  In fact, the latter is considerably more valuable, most of all to estimate a person’s public safety impact on others.  So the regulations simply target the wrong variable.

1b. People who are boosted might even be less likely to have caught the newer strains (presumably the boosters are at least somewhat useful).  Thus they are potentially more dangerous to others, not less, being on average immunologically more naive.  Ideally you want a batch of attendees who just had Covid two or three months ago.

2. More than three-quarters of Americans have not had a booster to date.  Very likely the percentage of potential AEA attendees with boosters stands at a considerably higher level.  Still, this is a fairly exclusionary policy, and pretty far from what most Americans consider to be an acceptable regulation.

2b. To be clear, I had my booster right away, even though I expected it would make me sick for two days (it did).  I am far from being anti-booster.  I am glad I had my booster, but I also understand full well the distinction between “getting a booster at the time was the right decision,” and “we should mandate booster shots today.”  They are very different!  Don’t just positively mood affiliate with boosters.  Think through the actual policies.

3. Blacks are a relatively undervaccinated group, and probably they are less boosted as well.  The same may or may not be true for black potential AEA attendees, but it is certainly possible.  After all the talk of DEI, and I for one would like to see more inclusion, why are we making inclusion harder?  And for no good medical reason.

3b. How about potential attendees from Africa, Latin America, and other regions where boosters are harder to come by?  What are their rates of being boosted?  Do they all have to fly to America a few days earlier, line up boosters, and hope the ill effects wear off by the time of the meetings?  Why are we doing this to them?

3c. Will the same booster requirements be applied to hotel staff and contractors?  Somehow I think not.  Maybe that is a sign the boosters are not so important for conference well-being after all?

4. Many people are in a position, right now, where they should not boost.  Let’s say you had Covid a few months ago, and are wondering if you should get a booster now or soon.  I looked into this recently, and found the weight of opinion was that you should wait at least six months for your immune system to process the recent infection.  That did not seem to be “settled science,” but rather a series of judgments, admittedly with uncertainty.  So now let’s take those people who were not boosted, had a new strain of Covid recently, and want to go to the AEA meetings.  (The first two of three there cover a lot of people.)  They have to get boosted.  And in expected value terms, boosting is bad for them.  Did this argument even occur to the decision-makers at the AEA?

5. The AEA mentions nothing about religious or other exceptions to the policy.  Maybe there are “under the table” exceptions, but really?  Why not spell out the actual policy here, and if there are no exceptions come right out and tell us.  And explain why so few other institutions have chosen the “no exceptions” path, and why the AEA should be different.  (As a side note, it is not so easy to process exceptions for the subset of the 13,000 possible attendees who want them.  Does the AEA have this capacity?)

Again, this is simply a poorly thought out policy, whether for N-95 masks or for boosters.  I hope the AEA will discard it as soon as possible.  Or how about a simple, open poll of membership, simple yes or not on the current proposal?



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