What is equitable Distribution of Vaccines?


Yesterday Chris and I got the first of our vaccine shots. Hooray! We didn’t ask if this was just or not. It was offered to us and we grabbed it.


No one asked whether the current system of vaccine distribution was actually fair or just. Such questions were off-side. This was an emergency. No one had time to think about justice. What an arcane concept. Every official concentrated on getting the medicine out as quickly as possible. Questions could be asked later when the job was done.

Now some interesting information is becoming available. Information is critically important in assessing actions. Good facts make good ethics. And there were some ethical issues.

Here is what Lindsay Glassco said,

“With the reality of our global interdependencies laid bare, the race for mitigation has already begun. A recent study found that equitable vaccine distribution was about more than ensuring all countries have a line of defence against the health impacts of COVID-19 — it is also our best line of defence against economic devastation.


In the most extreme scenario, with most wealthy countries vaccinated by the middle of this year and lower-income countries largely excluded, the global economy would suffer losses exceeding US$9 trillion.”


Money has a tendency to sharpen judgment. With trillions at stake, where are the ethics? Was the rush to fill arms with vaccines the right approach? Not according to the World Health Organization:

This is why the World Health Organization is advocating for an equitable response through the COVAX global vaccine sharing initiative. While one country’s vaccination strategy may keep its citizens safe temporarily, the heightened risk for virus spread and mutation in unvaccinated countries can continue to grow, eventually crossing borders. Within a few weeks, or even days, we could find ourselves in the same situation we were a year ago — or worse.


It is only natural that all of us (except for the sceptics) want the vaccine as soon as possible. We want it for ourselves and our loved ones. That is only natural. And we won’t spend a lot of time thinking about whether anyone should get it before we do, or at the same time. As a result, neither will our governments. The politicians can see by our actions what we want. We want justice for ourselves and families immediately. Once we are all safely inoculated we can discuss what we should do for others. Not now.

Many Canadians have learned what it is like to live in a pandemic coupled with a severe loss of jobs. People are suffering. Either from the disease, or the economic costs of the lockdowns. It is understandable that people want their political leaders to look after these issues and keep their eyes on the ball at all times. This, to most Canadians, is a time for action, not a time for justice. As Lindsay Glassco said,

“As a result of COVID-19, for the first time in many of their lives, Canadians are experiencing some of the hardships that millions of people in other countries face every day — children out of school, economic disruptions, sickness and disease, and scarcity of resources — leading even to hoarding. While these hardships are experienced to varying degrees, their existence is eye-opening and powerful for many.”


Yet, at the same, many of us can see, that we are all in this together. None of us want to be seen as hoarders. We mocked hoarders of toilet paper. We felt sadness for hoarders of vaccines. We have deep empathy for “front line workers,” who are putting their lives on the line for the rest of us every hour of every working day. Some of us even feel a modest twinge of guilt. Not enough  to get us to change places with those “essential” front line workers we claim to cherish so deeply.  At least we want to say we feel connected to them, even if none of our actions show that this is true.

Personal interest does not usually sharpen our moral compass. Rather it often dulls it.

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