Who goes first? The ethics of distributing a Covid-19 vaccine

covid vaccine

We are in the midst of a global health crisis that already has inflicted a significant humanitarian and economic toll on the United States.

For now, we must try to contain the spread of Covid-19 through physical distancing and face-covering.

But we will reach another turning point when a vaccine to prevent the disease has been developed. As the Catholic Health Association of the United States said in a July 27 statement, “it is essential to thoughtfully consider how to ethically develop and equitably distribute” a vaccine.

A persistent anti-vaccination minority in the United States, along with many people’s unwillingness to adopt simple measures to prevent spreading the virus, underscores the challenges ahead.

A vaccine program is concerned with the health of the community, and that should be important for any Christian.

Humans are essentially social animals, whose well-being is dependent upon a vibrant and healthy community.

We see evidence of this in the anxiety and depression affecting so many during the stay-at-home orders enacted to fight the pandemic.

Americans often focus on individual health, but vaccines are essential for our health, for the good for the community.

So once a vaccine is developed, how should we distribute it?

The obvious answer is that everyone should receive it. But given the delays and long lines for Covid-19 testing, we can imagine the potential for chaos once a vaccine becomes available.

We will need a strategy.

We use a market approach to distribute most goods in our society, which means that those able and willing to pay more for a product can get it first.

But medicine, because it is a basic good that we endeavour to make available to everyone, is not really distributed that way.

Until we have enough for general distribution, prioritizing who receives a vaccine dose will require a concerted effort among government and health officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an advisory panel have developed a preliminary plan for distributing the vaccine.

There must also be procedures for ensuring compliance by manufacturers and by state and local health agencies.

In line with the C.D.C. recommendations, it is important to begin vaccine distribution with the first responders and those on the front lines of health care, since they are both most at risk and are doing a great service for others.

To restart the economy, we should then think about workers who cannot work remotely, like factory or warehouse employees, but who provide essential services.

After that, we should prioritize workers who are in close proximity to large numbers of people (like teachers).

Then the vaccine should be targeted to those who are vulnerable to Covid-19 because of pre-existing conditions and the elderly.

A more controversial option would be to expedite distribution of the vaccine in populations, like Blacks and Hispanics, who have had higher rates of Covid-19 infection. Continue reading

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