Must We Vaccinate the Most Vulnerable? Efficiency, Priority, and Equality in the Distribution of Vaccines

Journal of Applied Philosophy 39 (4):682-697 (2022)
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In this article, we aim to map out the complexities which characterise debates about the ethics of vaccine distribution, particularly those surrounding the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. In doing so, we distinguish three general principles which might be used to distribute goods and two ambiguities in how one might wish to spell them out. We then argue that we can understand actual debates around the COVID-19 vaccine – including those over prioritising vaccinating the most vulnerable – as reflecting disagreements over these principles. Finally, we shift our attention away from traditional discussions of distributive justice, highlighting the importance of concerns about risk imposition, special duties, and social roles in explaining debates over the COVID-19 vaccine. We conclude that the normative complexity this article highlights deepens the need for decision-making bodies to be sensitive to public input.

Author Profiles

Emma J. Curran
Rutgers - New Brunswick
Stephen John
Cambridge University


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