A single dose for me, A wealth of protection for us: The public health cost of individualism in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine

OBJECTIVE: This study examines whether individualism weakens the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility expansions in the United States in 2021, and assesses the associated social benefits or costs associated with individualism.
METHODS: We construct a county-level composite individualism index as a proxy of culture and the fraction of vaccine eligible population as a proxy of vaccination campaign (mean: 41.34%). We estimate whether the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility policy is less effective in promoting vaccine coverage, reducing in COVID-19 related hospitalization and death using a linear two-way fixed effect model in a sample of 2866 counties for the period between early December 2020 and July 1, 2021. We also test whether individualism shapes people’s attitudes towards vaccine using a linear probability model in a sample of 625,308 individuals aged 18-65 (mean age: 43.3; 49% male; 59.1% non-Hispanic white, 19.1% Hispanic, 12% African American; 5.9% Asian) from the Household Pulse Survey.
RESULTS: The effects of expanded vaccine eligibility are diminished in counties with greater individualism, as evidenced by lower effectiveness in increasing vaccination rates and reducing outpatient doctor visits primarily for COVID-related symptoms and COVID deaths. Moreover, our results show that this cultural influence on attitudes towards vaccine is more pronounced among the less educated, but unrelated to race.
CONCLUSION: Assuming an average level of vaccine eligibility policies and an average intensity of individualism across the nation, we calculate that the average social cost associated with an individualistic culture amid the pandemic is approximately $50.044 billion, equivalent to 1.32% of the total U.S. health care spending in 2019. Our paper suggests that strategies to promote public policy compliance should be tailored to accommodate cultural and social contexts.