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French President Emmanuel Macron wears a patriotic face mask to speak with schoolchildren (AP photo/Ian Langsdon)

The soft Republican dictatorship in Wisconsin is standing up for your freedom to infect a captive audience with a deadly virus:

It’s tempting to attribute this objectively lunatic position to deeply embedded anti-government and anti-expertise streams in American culture. As Yglesias argued recently, though, it’s a more complicated question.

The AstraZeneca/Oxford is in wide use in the UK; there seems to be no reason to believe that, at least among those under 65, it isn’t roughly as effective as the two that have been approved. Rapid vaccination, unlike lifting mask mandates, would also increase economic growth and expand the range of activities that can be done safely. There is a solid case that it should be approved at least on an informed consent basis. But there is no push that for all among the public, which also seems to share the bizarre lack of urgency exhibited by so many public officials:

As an example, here’s a Slow Boring World Exclusive poll result that shook me when I first saw it.

Data for Progress asked people if we should put ourselves in the situation of needing to throw out expired vaccine doses if that’s what it takes to ensure that there’s no line-cutting, and there is strong support for wasting doses across parties and among both working-class and college-educated voters.


AstraZeneca and Oxford University made a vaccine that, as best I can tell, virtually all scientists believe based on the available evidence is safe and effective against Covid-19.

But if you live in the United States of America, you’re not allowed to take it. That’s because AstraZeneca kinda botched their Phase 3 trial, and the data isn’t considered sufficiently high-quality for the FDA to issue an Emergency Use Authorization. From the FDA’s point of view, holding off on approval is particularly wise because we already have two very good mRNA vaccines in use, and it’s widely believed that a third vaccine from Johnson & Johnson will be approved soon anyway; plus, AstraZeneca has another trial underway that should avoid the problems and get them approval sooner or later.

Still, I want to emphasize that while most (though not all) scientists I’ve spoken to support the FDA view of this, none of them are expressing to me serious doubts that the vaccine will in fact be approved.

And if you go back to October/November coverage of the mRNA vaccines, you’ll see the same thing — scientists were talking about when the vaccines would be approved based on completion of the process, not experiencing serious doubts as to whether they would be approved. It turns out to be quite rare for a vaccine candidate to make it to a Phase 3 trial and then turn out not to work. The point of the process is to set a very high evidentiary bar for vaccine approvals — a bar that one might think should be lowered given the particular circumstances of the current pandemic.

What’s striking to me, however, is that not only hasn’t the AstraZeneca vaccine been approved for use even on a special “right to try” basis, but that there is absolutely no movement in favor of such approval. And that’s not because Americans lack the know-how or will to protest things. Just during the past twelve months, we’ve seen big stop-the-steal rallies, huge anti-racism protests, and several rounds of protests against non-pharmaceutical interventions. The takeaway from the anti-lockdown protests was that Americans are too individualistic to abide by prolonged business closures. The takeaway from all three rounds of protests is that Americans of diverse ideological backgrounds have profound mistrust of America’s governing institutions. This is a country so taken with the spirit of liberty that we can’t get people to endure the relatively minor inconvenience of wearing a mask while out and about.

This stew of libertarianism and deferential conservatism is contributing to some incoherent and sometimes really bad policy results. And it’s far from uniquely American, either.

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