How Ethical Has The Covid-19 Vaccination Process Been?

Over recent weeks, the welcome news of a mass Covid-19 vaccination rollout across England has been dominating the press. Today’s blog looks at how ethical the Covid-19 vaccination programme has been, in terms of both the allocation of priority groups and those acting unethically to effectively ‘skip the queue’ and access the vaccine faster.

Image: Royalty-Free.

The first issue of priority group allocation has been heavily discussed within the media. Inevitably, not everyone is going to be first to receive the vaccine, nor is everyone going to be happy with their placement on the vaccine list. However, there have been calls from certain sectors and industries to the Government to allow them to effectively be pushed higher up the priority list. One particularly vocal group has been teachers, which established a petition and was later discussed in Parliament after 490,713 signatures, stating that teachers, school staff and childcare staff should be prioritised for receiving the vaccine. This was discussed in Parliament, with their response being “the government is working hard to ensure everyone who is clinically prioritised, as set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation (JCVI), receives a vaccine as soon as possible.” This was not welcome news to some of those working in the teaching and childcare sectors, however, it could be argued that the Government has worked hard alongside the JCVI to establish an appropriate and fair list of priority.

Although it can be assumed everyone is itching to receive the vaccine as soon as possible, so that we can be protected against this awful virus and put an end to the restrictions, the priority list is there to help protect the most vulnerable first. I, and I’m sure many others, feel this is definitely fair, and I know that I would feel terrible if I received the vaccine over someone else more vulnerable to the virus than I am. However, those who do not share this opinion have arguably caused an ethical issue by attempting to bump themselves up the priority list. Only yesterday (3rd February), teachers in Rochdale were accused of taking advantage of the vaccine booking system, by attempting to use booking links sent out to NHS and social care staff to book and attend appointments for themselves, which required intervention from the local council. This is a true example of unethical behaviour, as those individuals took the opportunity to receive the vaccine away from others in their community who were more vulnerable to Covid-19- including healthcare workers and the elderly.

Image: Royalty-Free

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case, as it was reported in January that one private company in London attempted to acquire Covid-19 vaccines for their 20 employees by offering multiple GP surgeries a financial incentive to reserve surplus vaccines for them. The person acting on behalf of the property investment organisation, The Hacking Trust, reached out to GPs as far afield as Bristol, to request the vaccine for their self-labelled ‘front-line staff’ and even described themselves as a ‘private medical company’. To add further insult to injury, they stated that a £5,000 sum would be ‘donated’ to either the GP Practice manager or to a charity of their choice. After this letter was exposed on Twitter and to news outlets from one GP Practice manager in Bristol, The Hacking Trust responded to claims they were trying to ‘skip the vaccine queue’ by stating they had been misunderstood and only contacted the GP Practices after hearing some vaccines were going to waste.

Whether or not this was the case, in my opinion, this example demonstrates unethical behaviour as this organisation was wiling to offer a financial incentive in order to acquire the vaccine for their staff- who were not categorised as a priority by the JCVI, despite their claims they were ‘front-line staff’. If The Hacking Trust were successful in their request, the vaccine would have been taken away from someone categorised as a higher priority, which, similar to the first example of the teachers in Rochdale, puts the wider community at risk.   

Although it is fair to say that, on the whole, that the vaccine process has so far been ethical and fair, as the JCVI have prioritised specific groups and the vaccine rollout has been efficient, there have been instances of unethical behaviour within wider society regarding the vaccine. Despite the fact that there is seemingly always a ‘loophole’ with projects similar to a vaccine rollout, it does not condone the unethical actions of individuals like the teachers in Rochdale and The Hacking Trust. Ultimately, it may be argued that there is always going to be someone who will take advantage of certain situations; however, I believe the unethical behaviour in this instance- particularly in light of the difficulty the Covid-19 pandemic has brought on many people and the significant risk to others’ health- absolutely cannot be condoned.

What do you think to these unethical actions- do you think that the teachers in Rochdale and The Hacking Trust were right in their actions, and should have been given priority access to the vaccine? It would be great to hear your thoughts on this.

Thank you for reading.

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