U.S. Vaccinations Rising Where They Are Needed Most

posted by Michael Lewis on July 23, 2021 - 12:00am


Buried in the crush of news stories about the horrors of the Delta (and other COVID-19 variants), the media are glossing over the fact that the problem is solving itself. Quickly.

The Associated Press reported this critical news today in a lede (newspaper-speak for the first paragraph of a story): “Several states with the highest proportions of new infections have seen residents get vaccinated at higher rates than the nation as a whole.” Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and Nevada are all among the states showing such positive trends.

In other words, people respond rationally to real threats. Stop the presses!

Reporters, however, seem unable to grasp this basic point and its inescapable implications, namely that this rising tide of vaccinations will and must swamp the COVID-19 variants. After the lede, the AP spent no time on this development and instead dedicated a dozen paragraphs to rehashing the same “variants are bad” material they have been running for months.

Had they bothered to investigate further, FMI is confident the reporters would find that the positive response is far, far greater than that aggregate state-level data suggests. Vaccination rates are no doubt ramping up even faster in the counties that are recording the spikes in variant cases. In fact, vaccination rates are surely soaring among the family members, friends and casual acquaintances of nearly every person admitted to a hospital because of the variant.

And this is happening even before the White House dispatches its door-to-door vaccine jabbers or whatever scheme they come up with.

The biggest reason for “vaccine resistance” or “hesitancy” is that those groups see no risk because they do not know anyone personally who has suffered or died from the virus. Not a soul. For 15 months, the experts have warned them about the virus, and for 15 months, those experts have been wrong – nothing happened (for these groups).

Now that their luck is running out, those “resistant/hesitant” groups are reacting rationally. The vaccines are freely available – and free! – at every pharmacy and around most every corner.

If Delta continues to circulate, and it seems certain to do so for a while at least, vaccination rates in those areas will continue to rise briskly. Nationwide, jabs are already back up to near 600K per day; with this further boost, the entire U.S. will be essentially covered before winter.

(As vaccination proceeds, Delta will fall off, and the urgency will go back down. But resulting cases will be, by definition, very manageable.).


COVID-19 lowered the average lifespan by -1.5 years in 2020! That headline was about COVID-19, it was dramatic, and it was splashed all over the mainstream media this week -- all very big red flags. The number seemed wildly implausible on its face. Sure enough, it is completely wrong.

The actual loss in lifespan to the average American due to COVID-19: -5 days. And that’s using assumptions that surely make the virus much worse than it actually is.

Nothing about the arithmetic in the headline makes sense. Some 330 million Americans losing 1.5 years of expected life would equal 495 million lost years. With 400K Americans dying in 2020 from the virus, that means that the pre-virus expected lifespan of those 400K people would have to have been… virtually immortal.

Dr. Peter Bach, M.D., explained the CDC’s grave error in Statnews: “The CDC calculated life expectancy using an assumption that is assuredly wrong, which yielded a statistic that was certain to be misunderstood.”

The CDC estimate was based on something called period life expectancy, which essentially assumes that conditions in 2020 will prevail over a person’s entire life. That is, their risk of dying is the same every year. It is a technique that can be useful for ongoing factors, such as smoking, cancer risks etc. It makes no sense for discrete one-time events like a war or a viral outbreak.

Bach recalculated using common definitions: the 400K people who died reduced their expected lifespans by 12 years, on average, says the CDC. Spread that -4.8 million lost years over 330 million Americans, we all lost -5 days, on average.

FMI takes issue with that 12-year estimate. The lion’s share of COVID-19 were advanced elderly people with multiple co-morbidities. Their remaining expected lifespan pre-virus was likely months. Most of the younger victims also had serious health conditions that would have limited their lifespans significantly.

This entire life-expectancy exercise by the CDC was pointless, guaranteed only to spread anxiety and fear. But then, that was the point.


Finally, returning to economics, ahem, our day job, Jay Powell received some good news this week that the White House was looking favorably on nominating him for a second term as Fed chairman. Unfortunately for him, this is fake news.

The Bloomberg exclusive hailed “broad support” for Powell’s renomination in the headline, but the story did not come close to delivering on that promise. The story was very thinly sourced. It relied entirely on unnamed sources in the White House -- basically two people. Moreover, the story did not use typical qualifiers for anonymous sources -- they discussed “top aides” but the sources were not identified as top aides.

The sources offered no insights into what the president was thinking. In fact, the story said the opposite: “White House officials have not yet spoken to Biden about a potential Powell renomination or replacement.”

The story noted that there have been no public or on-the-record comments from the Biden administration about Powell’s renomination. Not a good sign for him. A reporter asked Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about the matter, and she replied “That’s a discussion I’m going to have with the president.”

Powell, of course, replaced Yellen as Fed chair after President Trump dumped her. Powell may or may not have campaigned for the job, but he did nothing to help save Yellen. She will likely respond in kind.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party interest groups are already lining up squarely against Powell. He is a Republican, he is a white male, and despite his expressions of concern about racial equity, climate change et al, he is not on board enough for the liberal agenda.

FMI continues to believe that President Biden will name a Democratic woman to replace Powell. Fed Governor Lael Brainard is an obvious choice, and she is a least as much a policy dove as Powell. There are several women of color who could also be strong candidates.

The Bloomberg story also said the White House was working on replacements for a few Republicans on the Fed Board of Governors. FMI puts little stock in this. The Biden administration has had six months to fill one vacancy on the Board and has yet to do so. President Obama let years go by without trying to fill vacancies on the Board. The Fed chairman or chairwoman is important. Board members are not.