Did we repeat the Christmas Covid Wave?

The year is 2021

Around January of 2021, hospital staff and other select personnel received the first vaccines meant for the public. As a classroom teacher, I was designated important enough in the state of Alabama to get a Pfizer vaccine as early as February 2021.

Imagine what could have happened next

Americans grew antsy in May of 2021, because less than half of the population had been able to get a vaccine. It was frustrating to see the vaccine winners carrying on with life without fear of the virus while supply constraints made it impossible for everyone to join them at once.

An unintended consequence of the gradual vaccine rollout was that Americans who were initially concerned about vaccine safety had months to observe their family members and neighbors who got in line first. By July of 2021, most Americans personally knew of someone who died from Covid, and almost no one had witnessed a bad vaccine outcome.

By the end of the summer of 2021, over 90% of the American public was fully vaccinated. The economy roared back to life and working parents did not have to worry about school closures anymore.  

Americans felt proud to have invented and implemented the world’s best Covid vaccine. Considering that Trump has started the research and Biden had overseen the distribution, it was one thing that red and blue Americans could unite over.

The internet as a concept was vindicated because anyone who wanted to understand vaccines could do their own research. Scientific knowledge is no longer the domain of a select elite. Anyone can see the Covid death rates for vaccinated versus unvaccinated people. Amateurs can create data visualizations to share. Information on mRNA technology is free to all.

Speech remained free with regard to vaccine dialogue, but those who tried to discourage Americans from getting Covid vaccines were shouted down in all forums or accused of being foreign trolls.

The first Covid wave in April of 2020 was terrible and the second big event around Christmas of 2020 resulted in thousands of deaths per day lasting for months. No one wanted to repeat that.

Of course, that is not what happened.

Now I have the answer to the question I asked two months ago when I wrote https://economistwritingeveryday.com/2021/12/18/will-we-repeat-the-christmas-covid-wave/

The number of Americans who died from Covid in January 2022 is available from the CDC website.

Number of Covid deaths in January 2022, CDC 59367
Number of Covid deaths in January 2021, CDC 97866

We came fairly close (60%) to repeating the tragedy after the Christmas of 2020. The exponential rise and fall of a new Covid variant and the ensuing pattern of deaths is something we have been through several times. We knew this would happen.

Would every one of those deaths have been prevented by higher vaccine take-up? No. But the death rates among vaccinated people are much lower. Charles Gaba, a data analyst, estimates that about 143,000 Americans have died since the summer of 2021 who would have lived if we had a higher vaccine uptake rate.

Ezra Klein also engaged in some wishful thinking this week, so I’m not the only one.

My best explanation for this is that people want to feel like they are in control of their own lives. Due to a variety of factors, a large number of adults have a different concept of being in control than I do.* Something that shaped my personal attitude toward the vaccine was reading about the research and development process in real time, which I largely did by keeping up with Marginal Revolution.

Unrelatedly, Jeffrey Clemens has given our blog a label this week that I’m happy with: “speculative but engaging”

* According to Andrew Sullivan, “There’s something about masking … and vaccines themselves, that some men seem to find feminizing.”

One thought on “Did we repeat the Christmas Covid Wave?

  1. Scott Buchanan February 15, 2022 / 12:56 pm

    “There’s something about masking … and vaccines themselves, that some men seem to find feminizing” – – so (I am at least half-serious here) do we need more masculine-appearing masks? I don’t know what that would look like, but surely there are advertising types who would know such things. Integrate a pasted-on mustache and beard to the mask?
    A lot of the patterns I see are floral and such which would appeal more to women, I think.


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