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Bioethicists Have Advice For Navigating The COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

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A pharmacist at UCI Health Center preps the COVID-19 vaccine. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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As eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines continues to expand, supply still remains limited, leading to tough ethical decisions for officials leading the rollout and for people hoping to secure an appointment.

Our newsroom's public affairs show, AirTalk, which airs on 89.3 KPCC, called up two bioethics experts –- Dr. Jennifer James at UCSF and Dr. Alyssa Burgart at Stanford –- for their thoughts on the ongoing vaccine rollout, and the decisions individuals face as they navigate the process.

ON HOW THE ROLLOUT IS GOING SO FAR

James compared the rollout to building an airplane while already flying.

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At the system level, the government had to figure out how to prioritize a resource that is both precious and limited. And in California, officials chose older people and people working in healthcare to get vaccinated first.

But James said prioritizing age and “de-prioritizing certain types of disabilities and chronic illness is very concerning.”

There have been glaring disparities in distribution, and some individuals are choosing to take advantage of the system, like by improperly using access codes intended for eligible people who were struggling to get appointments in their own communities.

“This is a problem of our government, allowing the virus to become a pandemic of this magnitude, the failings that we've seen across the last year, that have allowed 500,000 people to die, that have created huge desperation,” James explained.

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ON THE PERSONAL DECISION TO GET A VACCINE WHEN YOU ARE ELIGIBLE

Both experts emphasized that if you are eligible and want a vaccine, you should make an appointment in your community, and that you should not feel guilty about that decision.

“As soon as you’re eligible, we really want you to get a vaccine,” Burgart said. “And the only way that that's going to be possible is with supply.”

ON WHAT TO CONSIDER IF YOU’RE NOT ELIGIBLE YET, BUT ARE PRESENTED WITH AN OPPORTUNITY TO SKIP THE LINE

Burgart said you could ask yourself:

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  • Are you able to work from home?
  • Do you have stable housing?
  • Are you able to socially distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands?

Those are other factors that can also help protect you during the ongoing pandemic while waiting for your turn for a vaccine, she said.

You can listen to the full discussion as it aired on KPCC here: As LA County Expands Vaccination Eligibility, We Look At The Ethical Issues In California’s Rollout.

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READ MORE OF OUR ONGOING COVERAGE OF COVID-19 VACCINES: