Federal Officials Are Considering Giving Coronavirus Vaccine to ‘People of Color’ First

Federal health officials are considering using race to help determine who gets access to future coronavirus vaccines.

Some members of a key CDC committee have advocated putting black and Latino people ahead of others in line for the first doses of any effective vaccines, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

“I think it’s very important that the groups get into a high tier,” Dr. Sharon Frey, a professor of infectious diseases at St. Louis University, said at a recent meeting of the committee, citing health disparities between races.

“Maybe not an entire group, but certainly to address people who are living in the urban areas in these crowded conditions."

Dr. Dayna Bowen Matthew, the dean of the George Washington University Law School, who is serving as a CDC consultant on the issue, agreed.

“It’s racial inequality — inequality in housing, inequality in employment, inequality in access to health care — that produced the underlying diseases,” she told the Times.

“That’s wrong. And it’s that inequality that requires us to prioritize by race and ethnicity.”

But other experts have pushed back on the idea of race-based rationing, questioning the scientific and legal basis and worrying about a public relations nightmare.

“Giving it to one race initially and not another race, I’m not sure how that would be perceived by the public, how that would affect how vaccines are viewed as a trusted public health measure,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, a group represented on the committee.

Harald Schmidt, an assistant professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, told We'll Do It Live by email that he agrees with the need "to promote social justice and reduce the effects of structural racism."
  • But he said explicitly race-based vaccine prioritization standards may be unworkable for "legal and practical reasons.”
  • "Safe and effective vaccines must not be allocated in a ‘colorblind’ way," he said.
Effective coronavirus vaccines could be on the market this winter, but may not be widely available to Americans for many more months.

Systemic anti-racism?: CDC officials would not be the first to bring anti-racism concerns to bear in responding to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.
  • More than 1,200 public health figures have signed a letter supporting protests against systemic racism despite restrictions on public gatherings.
  • A former director of the CDC tweeted last month that the risk from COVID-19 was "tiny" compared to the threat of perpetuating racism.
  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who like other Democrats has adjusted his health policies to accommodate Black Lives Matter protesters, announced on CNN on Thursday that a ban on large public gatherings would not apply to them.
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