Back in America

Back in America header image 1
March 4, 2021  

Who should get the vaccine first? We didn’t know so we asked a philosopher

March 4, 2021


As countries worldwide scramble to vaccinate their citizens against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, governments have to make the uncomfortable calculus of who deserves to get the vaccine right now. The ones who are spreading it the most? The ones in essential high-risk jobs? People over a certain age? That threshold is unclear and hotly contested. With several months to go before vaccines are readily available to any desiring American adult, legislators have to ask The Question: who first? And, as more vaccine becomes available, they will also have to ask whether it is morally justified for the U.S. government to mandate every citizen or every healthcare worker to take the vaccine? If many states mandate every child to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella, is COVID-19 significantly different?


In August 2020, Justin Bernstein, a philosopher at Florida Atlantic University, co-authored a paper answering precisely this question. And while the state of the world has changed significantly since then, the core question of how governments value their citizens, when, and why remains constant (if you’re curious, the U.S. government places the monetary value of a human life at roughly $10 million).

Podcast Editor Josh Wagner sat down with Justin to ask precisely these burning questions. For Justin, vaccines are just like any other vital resource that the government needs to allocate. And, in his mind, while our government has been failing in its mandate to protect public health, it is still the best means we have. 


Listen in to find out the answers to these questions and more!


Justin’s website

Alexander Guerrero’s blog post about dividing up the United States