Other’s opinion: Balance vaccine ethical choices

Published 6:30 am Saturday, February 13, 2021

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The Free Press, Mankato

The severity of the COVID-19 virus has created the daunting task of medical providers and health-care policy leaders deciding who might die and who might be spared by deciding who gets the vaccine first.

There is probably no bigger and more difficult decision than this, and even if one guesses right, someone will die, maybe one group more than others.

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So leaders need to consider pandemic risk against vaccination distribution equity.

A report in Thursday’s Star Tribune highlighted disagreements among members of the state’s vaccine allocation advisory panel with some saying the state has recently turned away from its previous policy of vaccinating those at highest risk first, when it pivoted to a CDC guidance on providing more vaccines to those over 65.

Three members of the advisory panel were joined by some 350 researchers, clinicians and organizations who signed a letter calling for the state to go back to its policy of highest risk first so as to adhere to racial equity in vaccine distribution. People of color have two to four times more risk of dying from COVID than whites and are three to five times more likely to be hospitalized.

While December CDC guidance called for vaccinating those 75 and older, that was changed to 65 and older more recently. And experts argued that people of color, because they tend to be younger, were essentially put further back in the line.

State health officials have said preliminary data show that people of color and other ethnic groups are not being vaccinated at the same rate as white groups. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the state is going to be collecting better data to help make more equitable decisions when it comes to distributing the vaccination.

Getting the vaccine to those 65 and older brings the vaccines to more people more quickly and therefore, can more quickly stop the spread. That goal cannot be underestimated.

Of course, some of these inequities could be more easily eliminated if the quantity of vaccines increased. And our distribution system also needs improvement as the number of vaccines distributed actually declined last week compared to earlier weeks.

So state health officials and providers must balance preventing virus spread against protecting those most at risk while making paramount efforts to increase money, resources, manpower and management aptitude to get more vaccines distributed more quickly.