The prospect of a vaccine is no longer something on the horizon. It is here and with it comes new ethical dilemmas. Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations, the vaccine is being distributed in a system of tiers. The first priority is for healthcare workers. The second priority is for elders over 75 and front line essential workers. Third priority is for people ages 64-75 and those with underlying health risks. Then, healthy adults will receive vaccines, and last, the youth will be vaccinated.
This distribution seems fairly logical, but the demand for the vaccine is much higher than the number of vaccines currently available in the United States. The number of vaccines available per day is limited either because of the way vaccine vials must be stored at extremely low temperatures, or due to the limits of the supply chain. In most states, people who qualify are signing up virtually by appointment to receive their first shot the moment they become available.
And yet, I have heard of many young and healthy people scheduling appointments at these vaccine sites, taking priority over recipients who are at higher risk. Since the signups are based on the honor system, many lie about their health conditions or jobs. On the surface this tactic feels honestly pretty smart. But, there is a much deeper issue within trying to cut the line. When someone attempts to cut the line they possibly take a vaccine away from someone who needs it. The Senior Rabbi and Director of Spiritual Care Department at Cedars-Sinai, Rabbi Dr. Jason Weiner explored what Jewish law and tradition tell us about vaccine triage. Triage comes from the French word tier and is most commonly known as a medical term used to group patients based on the severity of their injuries and the likelihood of their survival. The Jewish philosophy of triage tells us that the goal is always to save as many people as possible.
So, if there is one vaccine, but one elder with asthma and one healthy adult, who should receive the dose? We know that if the healthy adult is exposed to Covid-19 they have statistically higher chances of survival than an elder with underlying health risks. Therefore, the young and healthy should not be cutting the line.
It is our nature to prioritize one’s own survival. But in times of such isolation and division, we must look out for one another or else we risk preventable deaths. As the Talmud tells us “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba zeh” – All Jews are responsible for one another. We are all exhausted from Zoom and tired of being locked up. The fear of illness and death has pushed many to betray their values to save themselves. After all, the vaccine is everyone’s “golden ticket” to return to normal life. We must wait our turns so that we can save the most lives and protect the people most at risk first.