Just How Many Lives the Vaccines Have Saved, Afghanistan, Unemployment: RAND Weekly Recap

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August 27, 2021

We discuss the number of lives saved during the early U.S. vaccination effort; how to help the world's refugees; what leaving Afghanistan says about U.S. commitments elsewhere; the pandemic's effect on unemployment; insights into the new school year; and the global competition for virtual-reality dominance.

An elderly married couple receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time inside the Korean Community Services center in the Queens borough of New York City, New York, February 11, 2021, photo by Anthony Behar/Reuters

Photo by Anthony Behar/Reuters

Here's How Many Lives the Vaccines Have Saved

The daily COVID-19 vaccination rate in the United States has increased in recent weeks—likely due to concerns about the delta variant, which is ravaging unvaccinated populations and pushing hospital capacity to the brink. As Americans endure yet another wave of the pandemic, it's worth reflecting on just how effective the nation's early vaccination campaign was at slowing the spread of the virus and preventing death.

A new study by researchers at Indiana University and RAND estimates that vaccination in the United States prevented nearly 140,000 deaths and 3 million cases of COVID-19 by the second week of May 2021. This underscores the fact that further, coordinated efforts to vaccinate Americans—and people around the world—will be critical to controlling the pandemic.

Syrian refugee children in the Ketermaya refugee camp, outside Beirut, Lebanon on June 1, 2014, photo by Dominic Chavez/World Bank

Syrian refugee children in the Ketermaya refugee camp outside Beirut, Lebanon, June 1, 2014

Photo by Dominic Chavez/World Bank

In Search of a Durable Solution for the World's Refugees

There are 30 million refugees around the world, and this number is growing. A new RAND report finds that only one-third of displaced people return home after 10 years. As this problem becomes increasingly urgent, the authors consider what governments, donors, and international organizations can do to facilitate safe solutions for refugees over the long term—and how to promote the well-being of both refugees and the countries that host them.

A U.S. Marine escorts Department of State personnel to be processed for evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021, photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell/U.S. Marines via Reuters

A U.S. Marine escorts Department of State personnel at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021

Photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell/U.S. Marines via Reuters

Afghanistan Withdrawal Doesn't Mean the U.S. Abandons Its Allies

Strategic competitors like China benefit from the narrative that withdrawing from Afghanistan is a “blow to U.S. reliability.” But this argument doesn't hold up, says RAND's Jeffrey Hornung. The reasons for leaving Afghanistan and the rationales for other U.S. commitments are vastly different, he says. And the United States remains committed to defending the likes of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan against Chinese aggression.

A Wingets restaurant displays a “Now Hiring” sign in Tampa, Florida, June 1, 2021, photo by Octavio Jones/Reuters

A Wingets restaurant displays a “Now Hiring” sign in Tampa, Florida, June 1, 2021

Photo by Octavio Jones/Reuters

Why Are So Many Americans Still Unemployed?

At the end of June, the U.S. labor market had 10.1 million job openings. But 8.7 million workers were still unemployed in July. This may be explained by pandemic-related “frictions” in the labor market, says RAND's Kathryn Edwards. For instance, people may be concerned about contracting COVID-19 when they go back to work. Perks like higher wages won't assuage concerns about the virus, she says, so this issue could persist until the pandemic is contained.

A student uses a tablet at a socially-distanced desk during a hybrid learning day at the Mount Vernon Community School in Alexandria, Virginia, March 2, 2021, photo by Tom Brenner/Reuters

A student uses a tablet during a hybrid learning day at the Mount Vernon Community School, Alexandria, Virginia, March 2, 2021

Photo by Tom Brenner/Reuters

Insights into the New School Year

As millions of kids head back to the classroom, new RAND survey results provide insights into what schools are doing differently in the pandemic era—and what hasn't changed. Many schools have expanded services for the 2021-2022 school year, including mental health support and tutoring. More schools are also providing students with personal computers. However, much of the academic offerings for this year will remain the same.

People wearing virtual reality headsets watch films at a newly opened VR cinema by Er Dong Pictures in Beijing, China, March 27, 2019, photo by Lin Hui/Beijing Youth Daily/Reuters

People watching movies at a newly opened virtual reality cinema in Beijing, China, March 27, 2019

Photo by Lin Hui/Beijing Youth Daily/Reuters

The U.S. Needs a 'Virtual Reality Check'

Virtual reality has broad applications in law enforcement, health care, counterterrorism, and beyond. If the United States does not foster growth in this field, then it could lose an edge in global competition. That's according to Will Shumate of the Pardee RAND Graduate School and RAND's Timothy Marler. Even though the United States has an early lead in virtual reality development and applications, China could end up dominating VR—and reaping the benefits.

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