Taming of the Shrew: The Ethical Dilemma of the Vaccine Rollout


As we head towards the tail end of the COVID-19 crisis across the world, governments from various countries are now rolling out vaccines to the public.

However, there is a clear disparity between this rollout even amongst developed countries. More than 2.22 billion vaccine doses have been handed out across the world so far, almost equalling three doses for every 10 people on the planet. Places like the UK, Israel, the USA and the UAE all have a high rate of vaccine doses administered (per 100 people) in comparison to countries like Australia and New Zealand which have a relatively low rate of vaccine doses administered (per 100 people) (New York Times).

In the UK, 103 doses have been administered per 100 people, with a fully vaccinated rate of 42%. In Israel, there have been 117 doses per 100 people, with a fully vaccinated rate of 57%. In the USA, these figures are 92 per 100 and 42% (New York Times).

Therefore, why are developed countries like Australia, lagging behind with just 23 doses administered per 100 people and a fully vaccinated rate of 2.8%?

Source: Covid World Vaccinations Tracker, New York Times

Vaccine hesitancy: a result of exploitation and miscommunication

The public trust and acceptance of the vaccines are crucial to their success. Ultimately, if the general public does not trust and believe in the vaccine, they are far less likely to opt-in for them. This feeling of hesitancy can stem from two places, exploitation and miscommunication. If the governments are not effectively spreading the correct message about the vaccine then people will simply not know about it or favour a tendency to not prioritise it altogether. Similarly, if anti-vaxxers are more effectively campaigning against the vaccine, then a similar effect will occur.

When it comes to exploitation, one prime example comes in the form of how the Indian government has framed the problem posed by COVID-19. The poor have been at best an afterthought; at worst, expendable damage (ABC). Should the lives of vulnerable members of the community have an equal (or even greater) value than the lives of ordinary people? Some varieties of communitarian political thought suggest that the way in which nations care for their own vulnerable people is an indication of the moral character of that society (ABC).

Global Traffic Light System: Effective Strategy or Global Caste System

International travel is reopening using a proposed global ‘traffic light system’, essentially categorising countries based on how safe they are to travel to (e.g. green being good and red being bad). However, there is an argument that opening flights and travel could also open countries to new strains of the virus, which would effectively put the current vaccine rollouts at risk. It comes down to whether economical travel is more important than safety guarantees. 

The Irony of the ‘Herd Immunity’ approach is that all of these justice frameworks centre around a morally relevant goal — most ethicists agree that the number one goal in COVID vaccine distribution should be to minimise deaths by protecting those most at risk of severe illness. The implications of this goal are to vaccinate healthcare providers first, who are necessary to save lives, followed by populations at high risk of dying from the virus (Ethics Policy).

Vaccine passports

Vaccine passports for international travel make sense, but a domestic rollout could be unethical. Vaccine passports are essentially documents that show whether or not you have been vaccinated. Of course, when travelling from country to country, it makes sense to know whether someone is carrying or at risk of catching the virus. However, introducing these on a domestic level could breed discontent due to the unethical nature of the plan. Essentially, it would open the world back up to those who were vaccinated, typically the older population, while everyone else continued to be governed by strict measures.

Bearing in mind that the youth of today gave up one to two years of their lives, despite not being at too much risk of the COVID-19 virus, allowing everyone else to go about their lives again while they still wait for a vaccination would surely be seen as unfair.

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My name is Seb Jenkins, and I'm an author, designer and freelance journalist from the United Kingdom. I graduated from the University of Kent in 2018, with a degree in journalism. I have been writing novels for over five years now, completing multiple projects in that time. I have also completed countless articles, blogs, fiction pieces, website content and more over the last three years, as well as various editing jobs of all shapes and sizes. In my spare time, I'm always reading and writing.