Alex Tabarrok on Covid Failures and Successes, Part II

Yesterday, I posted Part I of my commentary on Alex Tabarrok’s talk on Covid failures and successes.

Here’s Part II. It starts at about the 41:00 point. Alex discusses four failures: failure to do an Operation Warp Speed for masks and trials; not getting the vaccine early to nursing homes; not experimenting and studying the virus; and not doing human challenge trials.

On failure to do an OWS for masks and trials, I don’t have much to say. I don’t know how feasible that would have been in the time they had. Alex himself shows how heavy-footed and slow the government is on many of these things. We don’t know that OWS for masks and trials would have worked well.

Not getting the vaccine early to nursing homes. This is a biggie. I totally agree with him on this one. As he notes, getting it to nursing homes 5 weeks earlier might have (Alex says “would have”) saved 14,000 lives. On the issue of nursing homes, that would have been the obvious to mention another huge nursing home failure in the spring of 202o: the decision of at least 3 governors of major states, Governor Cuomo of New York, Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey, and Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania, to insist that nursing homes take in people who tested positive for Covid. Alex says nothing about this.

Not funding experimentation and study of the virus. Alex points out that Fast Grants, run by Tyler Cowen and Patrick Tollison, handed out $60 million to study the virus before the National Institutes of Health had reviewed even one Covid proposal. Alex is justifiably upset by this.   He also points out that Fast Grants was the entity that funded Professor Anne Wyllie of Yale to do her Saliva Direct project. This is Yale, which, Alex points out, has a $42 billion endowment. So neither the government nor the non-profit sector shone on this, to put it mildly.

In a toting of costs and benefits, though, which is what Alex’s talk is about, I wish he had commented retrospectively on whether it was a good idea for Fast Grants to give a grant to Neil Ferguson and his Imperial College colleagues for their model that, as noted in Part I, way overpredicted deaths for Sweden without non-pharmaceutical interventions. Does Alex think that funding Ferguson was a good move? We don’t know.

Human challenge trials of the vaccine. Watch from 50:40 to 55:30. Alex is almost pitch perfect on this. Why almost? He should have a statement in there that anyone who engages in a human challenge trial does so voluntarily. When you say it, everyone gets it, but it needs to be said.

One thing I wonder that it would have been nice for Alex to address. He points out (at about 49:20) that Moderna’s vaccine was designed on January 13, 2020. When he, Kremer, Athey and the others proposed Operation Warp Speed later in 2020, did they know that? If so, how did it affect their thinking? If not, would knowing that have changed their thinking?