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Why One Missouri Ethicist Says You Should Wait Your Turn To Get The Coronavirus Vaccine

Mike Shannon, the Lead Maintenance Driver for St. Louis County Transportation is vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine at the mass vaccination site located on the campus of St. Louis Community College - Florissant Valley.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Mike Shannon, the Lead Maintenance Driver for St. Louis County Transportation is vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine at the mass vaccination site located on the campus of St. Louis Community College - Florissant Valley.

With nearly one-third of Missourians eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, some ethicists are reminding people that it's important that people wait until the most vulnerable get their shots first.

Nearly one-third of Missourians are now eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine — if they can find it.

The state’s vaccine supply is still extremely limited, and after nearly two months, only about 525,000 people, or about 9% of residents, have received their first dose.

Critics worry that affluent Missourians who are less at risk of catching the coronavirus are rushing to get the vaccine quickly, shutting out poor people and people of color, many of whom work in essential jobs and have direct contact with the public.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Sarah Fentem talked to St. Louis University law professor Ruqaiijah Yearby, the co-founder and director of the St. Louis University Institute for Healing Justice and Equity, about the ethics of receiving the coronavirus vaccine.

Sarah Fentem: I read an article in the Scientific American that claimed people who are working from home should wait for the vaccine to be given to other people who have to go out in public to work: essential workers, grocery store workers. Is that a good way to ensure equal distribution?

Ruqaiijah Yearby: I think it’s a good start. More needs to be done, particularly because we see people leaving their neighborhoods who are not most at risk to go and take doses in communities that are most at risk. I think we need to be very clear about where we allocate the resources for vaccine distribution to make sure it goes to the people who need it the most.

Fentem: I’ve heard a lot of people cross state lines, county lines to try to get a vaccine. Is that ever OK?

Yearby: It can be complex. What is not complex is those with privilege who can stay at home who are rich going and crossing state lines and county lines and taking these doses they don’t need.

You leave people out who have the highest rate of exposure to COVID -19. It’s sort of like giving snow boots to someone in Florida. They don’t need it. They don’t get snow! It’s important to focus on people who have the highest risk of exposure.

Fentem: What I’m hearing you say is if you can stay home, try to wait at this point.

Yearby: Yes! In the end, it affects all of us. [Someone] who can stay at home, who does not have a high exposure to COVID-19, will be best served by allowing those who have increased exposure [to get the shot]. Otherwise it’s just going to continue to spread and mutate and be with all of us.

Fentem: I heard a lot of doctors say to never turn a vaccine down if you’re offered a dose. Do you agree with that?

Yearby: No. And I say that as an African American who has a science background. Both of those inform my “no.” People have to balance the ability to get the vaccine and suffer from the side effects. Particularly for people who are essential workers and may not have the ability to take a day off, particularly after the second dose.

Many essential workers are not being protected, but they’re being forced to get the vaccine while they’re still not being protected. They still don’t have masks, they don’t have paid sick leave. I think it’s very simplistic and privileged to say that people should get the vaccine if they’re offered, not understanding that they might not have the capability.

Follow Sarah on Twitter:@petit_smudge

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.
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