Ethics Check: Medically Vulnerable Must Fight for Vaccines

In America’s jumbled sea of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility guidelines, medically vulnerable people are being left behind. 

  • A healthy 50-year-old working from home? Eligible in some states. But a 44-year-old front-line worker with diabetes? Out of luck, note 3 ethics professors in a Washington Post commentary questioning the ethics of age-based plans.


Age-only policies are not only unethical, the profs argue, they’re based on flawed mortality risk calculations:

  • “Age-adjusted covid-19 mortality risk for some disabilities, such as Down syndrome, is up to 10 times higher than for the general population,” they note. 

  • Age-based tiers entrench disparities 

States should reach out to high-risk people proactively, they write.

More confusion: Guidelines differ radically state by state. And, medical ethicists say the CDC’s list of priority conditions is misleading, The New York Times reports, since the risks for all conditions have not been considered and ranked.

The absence of long-term data on COVID-19’s interaction with many conditions raises many questions. For example, “Is a 50-year-old with Type 1 diabetes at greater risk from Covid-19 than a 25-year-old with sickle cell disease, or a 35-year-old with intellectual disabilities?”

The Quote: “The wait seems never-ending,” said  Megan Bauer, who has cystic fibrosis. “With cystic fibrosis, every day is precious, so losing this time is difficult.”

Hey GHN Readers Outside the US: We’re curious—how hard is it for people with underlying health conditions to get COVID vaccines in your country? Let us know by dkerecm1 [at] jhu.edu (subject: Hey%20Dayna%20-%20Here's%20what%20it's%20like%20where%20I%20live) (emailing Dayna).

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