As vaccinations in the United States continue at a rapid rate, the question on many university students’ minds is when is it my turn? With President Biden’s goal of 100 million doses by his 100th day in office already accomplished, states are racing to administer as many shots as possible. On April 19, Massachusetts plans to open vaccination appointments to the general public. Massachusetts residents ages 16 and older are eligible to sign up online starting this Patriot’s Day.
Just as many states are doing everything they can to secure and distribute vaccines to vaccination sites, many individuals are taking a similar approach to secure vaccines for themselves. Many healthy and young people are skirting the vaccination requirements by using an assortment of techniques. Connections in the medical field, government, or even just the patience to wait for an extra dose can secure you a shot.
Everyone wants to get a jab in the arm, so much so that some people are going one step further than bypassing registration to get a vaccine. Two Florida women in February decided it would be ethical to dress as older adults to receive the second dose of the vaccine.
How did they get by as fake elderly individuals the first time? Don’t ask me.
This situation, however, raises the question of how ethical it is to receive the vaccine while either not eligible, or unable to receive an appointment. Is it okay to lie to get the vaccine? The short answer is no.
Falsifying documents or a condition is morally and legally wrong. But what if you’re not lying to get the vaccine, but it’s still not your turn? Let’s say your roommate’s mom who volunteers at the local vaccination clinic recommends you come at the end of the day to receive one of the coveted “extra doses” that are notoriously left over at some sites. You’re not lying, but are you taking a vaccine away from someone who needs it?
New York Times medical science reporter Apoorva Mandavilli joined the widely popular Times podcast “The Daily” last month to update on the state of vaccinations. She offered her take on those getting the vaccine before they are technically eligible.
“Early on I might have answered this question differently. But now we have so many vaccines, so much of it and so quickly, that I think anybody who really, really wants one and is willing to go to the extra effort of getting one should probably just get one.”
Mandavilli, however, adds one caveat to this, “I wouldn’t recommend falsifying a condition, which I have heard of people doing. But I think if people want to stand in line for hours or be a little creative with how they figure out their eligibility, I’m OK with that.”
From a healthcare perspective, one could argue that every dose administered is a step in the right direction to herd immunity. That is what Mandavilli is advocating for. Using one’s resources to receive a dose is not going to affect others’ opportunity to receive one at that specific clinic. In most states, there are enough vaccines to be administered to those who want them.
Individuals having the ability to skirt the requirements in a legal way brings a broader American issue to the plate. It seems that those who are wealthier are practicing the many loopholes to receiving a vaccine while those in lower-income municipalities are struggling to get a hold of doses. In Los Angeles, at least 25% of residents had received at least one vaccine dose in higher-income neighborhoods like Bel-Air and Beverly Hills as of late February. In contrast, lower-income neighborhoods like South LA and southeast LA county were where, at the most, 9% of the population is vaccinated at the same date.
Just as wealthy ZIP codes are more likely to get a vaccine than lower income ZIP codes, university students with the means to game the system will be more likely to receive their shot than lower-income students. Until vaccine clinics make it possible for individuals to receive a dose without making an appointment, or requiring long-distance travel, those who have the resources will experience an easier path towards inoculation.
How can we eliminate barriers for those who are eligible and do not have the means to access a vaccination site? The assumption that everyone has a laptop to register on and a car to drive in is an issue that needs to be addressed. States must use their resources to bring the vaccine to lower-income neighborhoods or lower-income individuals to the current vaccination sites. To reach a faster herd immunity there must be a concerted effort to make vaccination easy for everyone, not just the wealthy.