Wed | Jan 27, 2021

Vaccine roll-out barrels on with health disparity in back seat

Published:Friday | December 4, 2020 | 12:08 AM

GETTING A COVID-19 vaccine to the right people could change the course of the pandemic in the United States. But who are the right people?

As the decision looms for President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration, a new analysis argues for targeting the first vaccines to the same low-income Black, Hispanic and Native American households that have disproportionately suffered from the coronavirus. But no one at the federal level has committed to the idea, which would be a significant shift from the current population-based method adopted by Operation Warp Speed.

“It’s not just a math problem. It’s a question of implementing a major social justice commitment,” said Harald Schmidt, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, who conducted the analysis of the strategies with colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston College.

If the shots get to the right people, Schmidt argues, the benefits could extend to the entire nation: Fewer people would get sick, hospital capacity would improve and more of the economy could reopen. Lives would be saved.

In October, a panel advising the federal government suggested setting aside 10 per cent of the vaccine supply to distribute as an extra boost to the states with greater shares of disadvantaged groups. But the idea from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has been largely ignored.