Value choices in European COVID-19 vaccination schedules: how vaccination prioritization differs from other forms of priority setting

Journal of Law and the Biosciences 9 (2):lsac026 (2022)
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Abstract

With the limited initial availability of COVID-19 vaccines in the first months of 2021, decision-makers had to determine the order in which different groups were prioritized. Our aim was to find out what normative approaches to the allocation of scarce preventive resources were embedded in the national COVID-19 vaccination schedules. We systematically reviewed and compared prioritization regulations in 27 members of the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Israel. We differentiated between two types of priority categories: groups that have increased infection fatality rate (IFR) compared to the average for the general population and groups chosen because their members experience increased risk of being infected (ROI). Our findings show a clear trend: all researched schedules prioritized criteria referring to IFR (being over 65 years old and coexisting health conditions) over the ROI criteria (eg occupation and housing conditions). This is surprising since, in the context of treatment, it is common and justifiable to adopt different allocation principles (eg introducing a saving more life-year approach or prioritizing younger patients). We discuss how utilitarian, prioritarian, and egalitarian principles can be applied to interpret normative differences between the allocation of curative and preventive interventions.

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