Vaccine Shortage

by Russ Roberts on October 26, 2009

in Health

In response to this podcast I did with Mike Munger, listener Milli Pritchett writes:

I am a pregnant woman in Salt Lake City, Utah. This weekend our health department had a mass H1N1 flu shot clinic, with 7,000 shots to give out, in 4 clinics. It started at 7am. I knew my chances were pretty small when I saw the night before people were already lined up. When I got there at 7am, I wasn’t hopeful, seeing what looked like 4,000 people lined up. I went and stood at the back of the line and started to wait. After about twenty minutes one of the Health department people came up to our group and said there was no point in waiting as they would run out of the vaccine about 1,000 people ahead of me. Some people started arguing with the guy, I just left. (I later on learned that 45,000 people lined up outside one of the clinics).
One of the main concerns and problems in this to me was that it was free. It seems to me that had they charged at least 20 dollars a person, half those people maybe would not have even been there. There are people that aren’t in the high risk groups getting the shots, just because they are free. I thought about it, and I would have paid and still would pay about 200 dollars for the shot. Maybe, next time I will think ahead and offer that amount to someone in line ahead of me…

My response:


I checked into your story and found this video.

Also spoke with the Salt Lake Valley Health Department. Pregnant women were one of five groups that were supposed to get priority and receive the vaccine on Saturday:

* Pregnant women
* Those who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age,
* Health care and emergency services personnel with direct patient contact,
* People between the ages of 6 months and 24 years,
* People ages 25 through 64 years with chronic health disorders such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, chronic cardiovascular disease and those with compromised immune systems.

People who lined up had to fill out a form vouching for their status in these groups. But it was on the “honor system.” No one had to prove they were pregnant or asthmatic or worked with infants.

So either there were too many priority people or too many people who claimed priority.

Maybe, just maybe, it would have been better to charge something instead of giving it away.

BTW, it was a CDC program administered locally.

We’ve made the same mistake of giving it away, before.


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