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Deciding the Fair Priority for COVID-19 vaccine distribution

September 9, 2020 — 

With much discussion these days regarding the development of vaccines against COVID-19, there has been comparatively little discourse regarding how such vaccines would be made available to the world population.

UM philosopher RJ Leland is part of an interdisciplinary research team that has published its suggestion on how best to inform preparations for vaccine distribution, so that doses can be distributed in the most just way possible once a vaccine is available.

The paper, “An ethical framework for global vaccine allocation,” the team of researchers argues against “vaccine nationalism” and for the Fair Priority Model that sees the doses delivered to those most in need and of critical importance.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has advocated distribution proportional to a country’s population, but Leland and his colleagues say this “mistakenly assumes that equality requires treating differently situated countries identically.”

Instead, the research team emphasizes three fundamental values they believe should be considered when distributing a COVID-19 vaccine: benefiting people and limiting harm; prioritizing the disadvantaged; and giving equal moral concern for all individuals.

This, their Fair Priority Model, focuses on mitigating three major dangers or effects of COVID-19: death and permanent organ damage; indirect health consequences, such as health care system strain and stress; as well as economic destruction.

Leland explains: “Our paper answers the question, recently posed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, among others: ‘What would a fair and equitable international distribution of COVID-19 vaccine look like?’ Our goal is to inform preparations for vaccine distribution so that doses can be distributed in the most just way possible once a vaccine is available.”

The Fair Priority Model is described in the journal Science.

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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