Portrait of Thomas Wein ©Leuphana/Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
"There are two arguments for vaccination: self-protection and the protection of society."
Professor Wein, what is the economic case for compulsory vaccination?
I would like to initiate a discussion that we urgently need to have now: If not enough people get vaccinated, the pandemic will not end. Then it can become expensive. In Germany, we will be hit by the curse of the good deed. No other country in the EU is spending as much money on economic aid at the moment as Germany. I agree with the Finance Minister, to be sure: If the economy works again quickly after the pandemic, we will be able to flush the money back into the state coffers quickly. But at the moment, many people have the feeling that the pandemic will actually cost us nothing. Economists speak of a fiscal illusion. Yet by November 2020 alone, our national debt has risen from 60 to 70 per cent. This year, the figure could rise to 80 per cent. By 2022, 95 per cent would be possible if we do nothing. At some point, no one will lend us any more money, and taxes will no longer be collected in sufficient amount. That is why we should talk about the consequences of a possible refusal to vaccinate now, otherwise we will soon be living a completely different life.
So now it's up to each individual?
There are two arguments for vaccination: self-protection and the protection of society. If I think strictly rationally, I only look at myself. If I get vaccinated, I not only have the benefit of staying healthy, but also costs due to possible vaccination reactions of my body. Therefore, I can also argue: If everyone gets vaccinated, then I don't have to get vaccinated and still get the benefit. The uncertainty makes the decision even more difficult. I don't know whether I will still catch the disease and how badly it might affect me. But I also don't know how strong my body's reaction to the vaccination will be. We see this in the current discussion about the manufacturers: everyone wants Biontech; AstraZeneca, on the other hand, is becoming less popular. What if this tilts even further? In economics, we speak of a classic misalignment of incentives.
But won't people get vaccinated for the common good?
A positive external effect can result from one's own vaccination: I won't get sick anymore and most likely won't be able to infect anyone else. There are behavioural economists who say that people act altruistically in situations like a pandemic. But the hypotheses have mainly been tested under laboratory conditions. Altruistic behaviour tends to happen in small groups. People know each other and therefore want to do something for each other. In larger groups, however, the effect becomes weaker.
What could drive undecided people to get vaccinated?
Classically oriented economists answer for similar problems: Reduce costs and increase benefits. The private sector could impose requirements, for example, a innkeeper would only serve vaccinated people in his pub. However, restrictions should only be made when there is enough vaccine. Otherwise, these measures discriminate. It is more difficult with institutions such as the Deutsche Bahn, since there is actually no alternative travel option for rail transport. Tax advantages for vaccinated people, i.e. monetary compensation, would also be conceivable. Legally, compulsory vaccination is possible. The Infection Protection Act provides for it. My impression is that politicians are currently rejecting it in order not to further fuel the protests of the Corona deniers. But we have to be clear: If not enough people get vaccinated, there are really only two options. We can let the pandemic run its course, in which case maybe 1000 people will die a day. Or there will be further lockdowns with fatal consequences for the economy and further costs due to state bridging aid. That's why we have to do everything we can to get people vaccinated. If there is no other way, then it will be through compulsory vaccination, as was the case with smallpox. Today, the disease is considered to have been eradicated.