Black Markets in COVID-19 Vaccines Were Inevitable Once Government Got Involved
In the U.S., a botched and politicized COVID-19 vaccine distribution process seems to be fueling a black market in vaccines.
Anyone with knowledge of their fellow humans could have seen this coming. Limited supplies and controlled distribution of a product in high demand incentivize people to jump the line, or to make money by offering to help others do so.
“There absolutely will be a black market,” New York University bioethicist Arthur Caplan commented at the beginning of December. “Anything that’s seen as lifesaving, life-preserving, and that’s in short supply creates black markets.”
Caplan spoke well before government officials—who have monopolized distribution of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and purchased billions of dollars’ worth of doses—dropped the ball on getting the stuff into Americans’ arms. The vaccine has been in short supply as only something handled by government agencies can be.
“It was a planning error and I am responsible,” U.S. Army General Gustave F. Perna, chief operations officer for the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, said in December after state governors complained of a shortage of inoculations. Perna had to say something after Pfizer officials made it clear the problem wasn’t on their end.
“This week, we successfully shipped all 2.9 million doses that we were asked to ship by the U.S. Government to the locations specified by them,” the company revealed in a December 17 press release. “We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”
To be fair, states and localities contributed to the massive screw-up.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened providers with penalties if they let anybody jump the government-mandated line for shots, but also promised to slam them if doses were wasted because of inability to meet the criteria. “Cuomo presented area hospitals with a double bind: Fail to use all of your vaccines and be fined up to $100,000, or vaccinate people out of order and be fined $1,000,000,” Billy Binion noted for Reason.
In Florida, state and county online reservation systems crashed and phone lines booted those who sought to make an appointment to receive the vaccine. “Due to overwhelming demand, we have reached capacity with our COVID-19 vaccination for the community,” the Broward County Board of Health announced on December 30. “Schedul
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