Michael A. MacDowell: Vaccinations should be both an individual and a societal choice


Many Americans are bewildered by the 44% of their compatriots who have not yet been vaccinated. After all, the COVID-19 vaccination is free, and the only cost to the individual is the time it takes to get the vaccine. For most people, the opportunity cost of this period is minimal and the cost of catching COVID-19 is potentially quite high, so why would anyone take a hit?

There are those who argue that the vaccine was developed too quickly and that research into the long-term effects of the vaccine is incomplete. They believe it is better to contract COVID-19 and gain immunity this way rather than through a vaccination. However, those who refuse the blow overlook the costs they impose on society by their actions.

These societal costs vary depending on the severity of the infection, but can be significant. At the start of the pandemic, Healthcare Finance News associate editor Mallory Hackett calculated that the average cost of a COVID-19 hospital stay for patients under 21 without insurance was 51,289. $. The average cost for patients aged 41 and over without insurance was $ 78,569. Total costs have only increased since April 2020, when these calculations were made.

Even at these rates, the cost of care for a COVID-19 patient is not fully covered by the patient or their insurer. Much of the fixed costs of running a hospital must be covered by revenues from a variety of services it provides. Among these services are “elective surgeries,” which are “overcrowded” when a hospital needs to increase the space and staff needed to treat COVID-19 patients. To make up for lost revenue, hospitals are increasing their rates for other procedures. Insurance companies must also cover the increase in costs, so that insurance premiums are increased to cover their increase payments.

There are many “social costs” incurred when people choose to forgo vaccination and, as a result, become infected. Their decision several times increases the likelihood that they will infect other people as well, increasing the personal and government costs spiral of COVID-19. And there are also the institutional social costs incurred by businesses and organizations that lose efficiency because sick employees are unable to work for long periods of time.

Finally, there are the future costs associated with the fact that so many students of all ages missed out on precious classroom time during the pandemic. UNESCO reported that in April 2020, 90% of the world’s learners: nearly 1.6 billion children and young people were affected by school closures. UNESCO estimates that 10 percent of additional future earnings are made for each school year. Using this calculation and applying it to the 76 million children in school in the United States, the cost of lost school time for a single semester equates to $ 2.5 trillion in future income. Of course, some students didn’t miss any time in class, but the majority did and for well over a semester. In any case, time lost in school is a real cost of the pandemic that we cannot ignore when determining the cost incurred by society because of the unvaccinated.

There are many costs associated with the decision not to get vaccinated, some of which are borne by the person making the decision, but many are borne by all of us. The argument that individual rights are trampled on by government mandates for vaccinations has some basis in truth. If there was a way for those who decide not to get the vaccine to bear all the costs of their decision, then it would make sense for society to excuse people for refusing the vaccine.

Some have tried to do it. Delta Airlines made a rational move in this direction by charging unvaccinated employees an additional $ 200 per month for their health insurance. But if a Delta employee becomes a COVID-19 patient, the $ 200 per month he paid will barely cover the full cost of treatment.

Americans have traditionally revered the right of individuals to make their own decisions. However, when society suffers physically and financially from the decisions of a few at the expense of many, institutions and government have a role to make decisions that benefit all. This appears to be the case with the requirement that individuals be vaccinated.

Michael A. MacDowell is President Emeritus of Misericordia University and Trustee of the Calvin K. Kazanjian Foundation.


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