Vaccine guidelines debate should not wait for availability
Rationing of medical treatment is viewed by many Americans as unacceptable. Making health care decisions based on anything but need is seen as immoral. That is as it should be.
But as researchers race to develop vaccines against COVID-19, the specter of rationing is being raised by some.
Among the most intelligent strategies adopted by the federal government to battle the coronavirus is that involving vaccines. Developing them safely, yet quickly is a very expensive proposition.
Private-sector researchers whose work shows promise are receiving subsidies to speed development of vaccines. In return, some companies have pledged that once they have products on the market, they will be supplied to the public on a no-profit basis.
Several potential vaccines are showing promise. Normally, decisions on production are not made until after the best candidates are identified.
That could delay getting a COVID-19 vaccine out to the public, perhaps by months. Fortunately, federal policymakers have committed enormous sums, in the billions of dollars, to begin production of the most promising vaccines in advance.
That means millions of doses of vaccine compounds that do not prove safe and effective will be thrown away, at taxpayer expense. But it also means that when good vaccines are found, millions of doses will be ready to go immediately.
Still, it will take most of 2021 to produce enough vaccine to give it to every American who wants it.
In the early stages of distribution, that will mean rationing. Decisions will have to be made about who will receive the vaccine and who will be told they have to wait.
Clearly, older people and younger ones with potentially dangerous pre-existing medical conditions should go to the front of the line.
There, unfortunately, it is likely any agreement will end. What about race? Gender? Location? Any number of other factors?
For example, will New York City residents get preference over Americans in rural areas?
If the health care community has not begun devising guidelines for vaccine distribution, it should, right away. The sooner Americans learn what those guidelines are and have an opportunity to debate them, the better.
Vaccine for COVID-19 could be one of the great public health success stories — or it could drive one more spear of divisiveness into the American public. We cannot allow the latter, as dangerous in the long run as the virus itself, to occur.