Speed Reads

Gaming COVID

There are a few arguably ethical ways to jump the COVID-19 vaccination line

Unless you live in Alaska, there are rules for who is eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Not every state enforces those rules — see: Texas — but there's a general consensus that the elderly, frontline health care workers, and people with underlying health conditions should have first access to the limited doses of vaccine. Still, medical ethicists say there are a few kosher ways people can get vaccinated before they are deemed eligible.

One way is by volunteering to help other people get vaccinated. "As states ramp up vaccination distribution in the fight against the coronavirus, volunteers are needed to do everything from direct traffic to check people in so vaccination sites run smoothly," The Associated Press reports. "In return for their work, they're often given a shot."

"The volunteers we're talking about at registration centers are people who are part of the public health effort," Nancy Berlinger, a bioethicist at the Hastings Center, tells AP. "They are performing a crucial role," just like the paid vaccination workers who are inoculated without question. Besides, "there would be easier ways to game the system," she said, "if that was really your goal."

The other ethically defensible way to jump the line is to bare your arm for COVID-19 shots that would otherwise be thrown away, often after people don't show up for their appointments. Hunting down a "leftover dose has become the stuff of pandemic lore," The New York Times reports, but a nonprofit startup called Dr. B is aiming to connect expiring doses with people who can drop everything to get vaccinated.

"Despite some grumbling about younger, healthier people skipping the line by snapping up leftover doses, public health experts and many ethicists say the most important thing is that the vaccines don't go to waste," the Times reports. The goal is "to be intentional and to be equitable," Dr. Shikha Jain at the University of Chicago tells the Times, but if people are offered a last-minute vaccine shot, "that person should not say no because they want it to go to someone else."

Line-jumping isn't great, but "overall, we are trying to achieve herd immunity and a shot in an arm is good for the entire community," an Austin Public Health spokesperson tells The Texas Tribune. Still, certain groups need the vaccine more, so maybe "instead of jumping the line, help a senior sign up for the vaccine."