Ethics and public health emergencies: Rationing vaccines

American Journal of Bioethics 6 (6):4 – 7 (2006)
There are three broad ethical issues related to handling public health emergencies. They are the three R's - rationing, restrictions and responsibilities. Recently, a severe shortage of annual influenza vaccine in the US, combined with the threat of pandemic flu, has provided an opportunity for policy makers to think about rationing in very concrete terms. Some lessons from annual flu vaccination likely will apply to pandemic vaccine distribution, but many preparatory decisions must be based on very rough estimates. What ethical principles should guide rationing decisions, what data should inform these decisions, how to revise decisions as new data emerge, and how to implement rationing decisions on the ground are all important considerations. In addition, ethicists might be able to help policy makers think through the importance of international cooperation in surmounting global rationing dilemmas and to accept the inevitable responsibilities of government in making and implementing rationing decisions.
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