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Vaccine Mandates and the Labor Market

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Jose Espinoza, 27, receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic in Los Angeles, Calif., August 17, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters) How Biden’s vaccine mandate could slow the economic recovery.

COVID-19 has had massive effects on the U.S. economy, and lingering cases have clearly been a negative in the numbers lately. Which raises the question: Will the vaccine mandate, however unpopular, have positive economic effects? Or will it cause disgruntled workers to quit their jobs and push the numbers in the opposite direction?

First, we should take a look at the health numbers. With the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases still hovering around 150,000 per day, even the most libertarian among us, while bristling about the overreach of the mandate, feel frustrated that the virus continues to plague the country. As bad as we feel, imagine how Isrealis feel: With about 80 percent of them vaccinated, just about a week ago, the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases exceeded its all-time high.

To be sure, vaccination continues to provide protection against extreme outcomes, but that protection is not perfect. Unvaccinated people are only about four times as likely to end up with a serious case, according to the CDC. Joel Zinberg in City Journal last week estimated that about 80 percent of Americans have either had COVID, so they have natural protection, or have been vaccinated, so the number of breakthrough cases is increasing as a percentage of total cases.

That means that vaccinating everyone will not give us a world without COVID-19. Indeed, the CDC estimates that about 14,000 vaccinated people have been hospitalized or died through September 7. Moreover, vaccinated people who test positive but do not end up with a serious case could still create massive disruptions for a workplace. If somebody tests positive in your factory, the odds are that production is going to take a break while everyone quarantines, even if they are vaccinated. The breakthrough cases will be a gift that keeps on giving.

The top-line numbers, however, do not tell the complete story. The vaccination rate for prime-age workers between

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