The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

"Health Experts Are Telling Healthy People Not to Wear Face Masks for Coronavirus. So Why Are So Many Doing It?"

A blast from the not-so-distant past, plus a thought about the vaccine-cautious.


Ed Driscoll at InstaPundit reminds us of this Time headline from March 4, 2020. Of course, even the experts make mistakes, especially about new situations; no-one can be expected to get it right all the time. And on balance, I tend to go along with the experts' recommendations, not because they're guaranteed to be right, but because they're more likely to be right than nonexperts like me would be.

Still, it's a sobering reminder that we should be somewhat skeptical of everyone, including scientific experts—and that we should be open to the possibility that the skeptics might well be right, even if we ourselves stick with expert advice.

I'm reminded of this, incidentally, when I hear about people who are hesitant to get the COVID vaccine. I've gotten my first shot (rightly or wrongly, educators, including ones who won't be back in the classroom until August, have recently been allotted COVID shots in California), because I generally trust the medical establishment to get these things right. And once everyone who wants to get vaccinated is vaccinated, we might ask if those who aren't vaccinated should be pressured to do so. (For more on why I think compulsory vaccination might sometimes be proper, see this post.)

But it's perfectly reasonable, I think, for people not to want to be the early adopters here. It's a new vaccine, and like all new things it could have unforeseen problems. The experts tell us it seems pretty safe, and they're probably right, but we can't be sure—and the more time passes, the more we'll know about any possible problems. So long as there's not enough vaccine to go around, it seems to me quite sensible for suitably skeptical people to yield their place (for now) to someone who has a different guess about the relative risks, and to put off getting vaccinated until more is known.

(I'm speaking generally here; some people who might be in especially high-contact positions might have more obligation to run the risk of the vaccine, to minimize the risk of infecting others, but many people are in pretty low-contact positions these days.)