Why should HCWs receive priority access to vaccines in a pandemic?

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-9 (2021)
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Abstract

BackgroundViral pandemics present a range of ethical challenges for policy makers, not the least among which are difficult decisions about how to allocate scarce healthcare resources. One important question is whether healthcare workers should receive priority access to a vaccine in the event that an effective vaccine becomes available. This question is especially relevant in the coronavirus pandemic with governments and health authorities currently facing questions of distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.Main textIn this article, we critically evaluate the most common ethical arguments for granting healthcare workers priority access to a vaccine. We review the existing literature on this topic, and analyse both deontological and utilitarian arguments in favour of HCW prioritisation. For illustrative purposes, we focus in particular on the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. We also explore some practical complexities attendant on arguments in favour of HCW prioritisation.ConclusionsWe argue that there are deontological and utilitarian cases for prioritising HCWs. Indeed, the widely held view that we should prioritise HCWs represents an example of ethical convergence. Complexities arise, however, when considering who should be included in the category of HCW, and who else should receive priority in addition to HCWs.

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Author Profiles

Xavier Symons
Australian Catholic University
Steve Matthews
Australian Catholic University