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All Benefits Have Costs

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:


Today’s edition contains three letters critical of my colleague Todd Zywicki’s defense, in your pages, of his lawsuit against George Mason University’s vaccination requirement. Each letter-writer, alas, misses a point that’s central to the broader case against vaccination mandates – and, indeed, against all Covid restrictions: Because vaccination is indeed quite effective at protecting each vaccinated person against suffering serious consequences from Covid, there’s no good reason to require anyone to be vaccinated. Each individual has easy ability to acquire such a high degree of protection that we can stop tyrannizing each other in the name of fighting Covid.

Furthermore, evidence from amply vaccinated countries, including Israel, Iceland, and the U.K., reveals that vaccination doesn’t stop disease spread. It provides a personal benefit – reduced disease severity upon infection – but little public benefit.

The predictable response is that vaccination isn’t 100 percent effective even for the vaccinated. True. But whatever additional benefits might be gained from vaccine mandates and other Covid restrictions must be weighed against the costs of these intrusions – costs that include solidifying an ominous precedent for until-now unprecedented authoritarian intrusions into Americans’ private affairs.

Contrary to each letter-writer’s supposition, establishing the case for vaccination mandates requires more than pointing out the trivial reality that an unvaccinated person might impose more risks on nonconsenting others than does a vaccinated person. Other questions must be asked and correctly answered – chief among these are ‘How much more risk?’ (answer: not much), and ‘At what cost?’ (answer: immense).

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030


Adults sitting at home pose less risk to strangers than do adults out driving automobiles. Yet we correctly do not leap from this reality to the conclusion that therefore further restrictions are justified on adults’ freedom to drive automobiles.

For helpful feedback on an earlier version of this letter I thank Jay Bhattacharya.