CoVid Vaccine: Ethical dilemmas at every step

It’s surreal reading Sarah Zhang’s article on CoVid from 3 months ago – you can feel the frustration and angst in her tone , which is a reflection of how most Americans were feeling at the time. As we approach November, ushering us into the ninth month of the ongoing pandemic, there’s much less hope despite the prospect of a vaccine. The CDC is absent. Federal and state administrations are persistently inept – the upcoming election only exacerbates this fact. There’s just an overarching sense of somber acceptance that to outlast the pandemic, we must accept ethical compromises and I doubt vaccine distribution will be the exception to these sentiments.

Much like the approval of early faulty Covid testing material (resulting in a significant amount of false negatives and thus continued spread of the virus), rushing the process of medical equipment like a vaccine through the Trail 3 phase has a high chance of bringing as much harm as good, our best-case scenario is to have the vaccine be effective in merely 50% of those it is given to, but we as a country have made the ethical compromise to prioritize immediate chance over gradual certainty.

In prioritizing chance we have decided we need tens of thousands of research volunteers to create this vaccine. This presents one of the most challenging ethical dilemmas of all: selecting individuals who are likely to be exposed to and heavily affected by the virus. Many of these individuals are essential workers that work lower-wage jobs (delivery persons, grocery clerks, teachers, restaurant servers) who have continued to work through the pandemic as a means to stay financially afloat and individuals who are at high risks such as elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions. To even obtain a vaccine, we are essentially asking the most vulnerable populations to “take one for the team” and risk their lives for the betterment of the majority healthy and financially stable population. It’s especially heinous that many studies are targeting lower-income areas with the incentive of financial compensation, creating the equivalent of an economic Covid research draft.

And so we find ourselves at the most recent prompt of ethical compromise: who gets the vaccine and when? Since these communities are the ones being targeted, do they not deserve first priority when a vaccine is approved as reparation for their continued sacrifices throughout the pandemic? Were these not the citizens that helped the US function while the rest of us patiently waited safely inside our homes – how can they be “at-risk” enough to be guinea pigs but not “at risk” enough to be taken care of?

Zhang points out that providing vaccines to these communities has been an idea spread amongst professionals but that confusion of authority has delayed any sort of substantial distribution plans. I have to agree with her that the “vaccination program is likely to take place against a backdrop of partisanship and misinformation” and that’s a prediction from months ago. Resources are finite and its well known that the vaccine distribution will receive critique from every angle but in my opinion, and perhaps because I am partial towards the ethics of care and considering how this virus has disproportionately effected various communities, we should be prioritizing those that have been caring for us for the past nine months. We may not fully know who will get it right at the beginning but its very clear who should be recieving it last: all of us sitting at home waiting for a solution.

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