Emily Oster on Vaccines in February 2021

My third post on Covid data heroes features Dr. Emily Oster. Emily is a mom. Lot’s of economists are moms, but few have incorporated it quite as much into their careers. Emily has written a book on pregnancy and a new one on what to do with the kids after they are born. She does a great job explaining scientific research in a way that is easy to understand.

Emily made a big push to collect data on schools and covid back when there was crippling uncertainty about how dangerous it is to let children go to school in person.

She has a great email newsletter and substack. Her latest post is called “Vaccines & Transmission Redux Redux”. In this post, she distills the latest research to give practical advice on when kids can see grandparents once the vaccines are out.

For a long time now, some families have been avoiding close contact with elderly relatives. When can we go back to normal?

At the beginning of Emily’s post, she explains the state of knowledge on how well vaccines work. They do work, in the sense that infection and transmission is reduced. It’s too early to say that once someone gets a vaccine there is a 0% chance that they can pass Covid to another person. Because that is not guaranteed, some level of risk does remain for having normal human interactions. Emily encourages us to think rationally about these risks.

“The next phase of this pandemic is going to be learning to live more normally with some risk of COVID-19. We do this every day with other risks, but it’s going to be hard to make this mental shift.

Since elderly people are prioritized for vaccination, she considers what families should do if grandparents have been vaccinated but no one else has. Previously, the fear was that young people would give Covid to an older person. There was a serious risk that you’d kill your grandparents by visiting them.

Her calculations indicate that visiting vaccinated grandparents is much less risky than it was to visit grandparents at Christmas 2020. Read her newsletter for fairly precise estimates of the risk of adverse events such as transmission or illness.

Lastly she points out that even if you feel safe finally getting your young kids together with their grandparents, you still should take some precautions. Avoid large crowds in indoor spaces. Simple math tells us that if you expose yourself to a very large number of people, then the likelihood of spreading Covid gets much higher.

P.S. I have personally received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. I am grateful to have been able to get one so early, since I personally receive some protection from illness. I also am happy to know that I am less likely to cause someone else to get sick.

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