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COLUMNIST: Plan for a vaccine now

by Joe Amon Tribune News Service | May 16, 2020 at 2:39 a.m.

Recent news from researchers at Oxford University gives some hope that a vaccine for covid-19 could be ready as early as this fall. But as with test kits, N95 masks and ventilators, the demand will far exceed the supply--at least initially.

So who should be first in line for a vaccination once it is available?

Health-care workers, from doctors to hospital janitors, are on the front lines of fighting this pandemic, so protecting them should be our first concern. After that, deciding who should get vaccinated could get contentious, with states competing against one another for limited supplies, various industries claiming priority, and those who can afford it arguing for a free market approach.

Epidemiologists might recommend giving certain populations or regions priority based on mathematical models of disease spread. Others might advocate protecting those at greatest risk of severe illness or death, such as older people and those with underlying health conditions.

We have seen the free-for-all if not downright corrupt nature of government support programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program, in which large institutions have gamed the system to soak up funds intended for and desperately needed by,small businesses. So it is critical that we devise a transparent and bureaucratically simple system, one that caters to those in greatest need.

To reach older people and those with serious underlying health conditions, Medicare-eligible people could get priority. To reach people living in poverty who have been disproportionately affected by covid-19--and who may work in service industries that are essential for opening up the economy, and that put them at high risk--people on Medicaid can be fast-tracked.

Some of the largest outbreaks in the United States have occurred in detention facilities. The government has an obligation to protect inmates and ensure that they have access to care.

This pandemic has made clear that in our interconnected world, we need to act globally. The U.S. government recently declined to help fund a global effort to support vaccine development. That's a huge mistake.

As we face an uncertain future of second, third and perhaps seasonal waves of covid-19 cases, we need not only more investment, but national leadership and greater recognition of health as a human right, available to all.

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Joe Amon is the director of global health at the Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health and former director of health programs at Human Rights Watch.

Editorial on 05/16/2020

Print Headline: Plan for a vaccine now

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