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The battle between your bodily autonomy and public health

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Using a vinyl holder attached to a lanyard is one way to protect and secure a Vaccination Record Card.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Should proof of vaccination be required for getting a job, a hospital bed or an organ transplant?

Certain individual freedoms are fundamental rights in America, but those rights are not limitless. Ethicists say society has an obligation not to do harm to others.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 57.6% of eligible recipients in the United States are fully vaccinated.

When President Biden announced all federal workers must be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by November 22, 2021, some argued the mandate is government overreach and a violation of their bodily autonomy.

Two medical ethicists address whether vaccination requirements are justifiable when it comes to hospital bed priority, organ transplants and employment.

Hospital bed priority

As the delta variant spread, causing an influx of patients to hospitals, the question arose: Should a patient who has been vaccinated against COVID-19 be given priority over a patient who has not been vaccinated?

Pandemic triage procedures are in place at medical facilities across the country and according to Dr. David Fleming, senior scholar at the MU Center for Health Ethics, vaccination status does not determine who gets a hospital bed.

"In our triage protocols, and those that I'm familiar with, vaccine status is not one of those variables that's considered," said Dr. Fleming.

Doctors are legally obligated to provide care, he said.

When it comes to scarce resources, such as monoclonal antibodies, fellow ethicist, Terry Rosell, the Rosemary Flanigan Chair at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, said whether the patient is vaccinated or not could play into the triage considerations.

"It may be that we prioritize those who are unvaccinated for a scarce resource in situations where monoclonal antibodies or other proven treatments are in short supply" Rosell said.

Organ Transplant

Organs are a scarce, life-saving resource and some transplant centers are requiring patients be vaccinated to receive the procedure.

"This is ethically warranted," said Rosell. "It's justifiable. This is a clinical, a medical matter. It's not a political situation."

Dr. Fleming said there should be no surprise in the vaccine requirement.

"There's long been an expectation that they get immunized against other illnesses," said Dr. Fleming.


There are businesses requiring their employees be vaccinated, threatening employment termination or suspension for those who don't comply.

"We're trying to serve the greatest good for the greatest number," said Dr. Fleming.

Some resisting the vaccine argue that it infringes are their individual right to choose.

Rosell said you have the right to choose the vaccine or the right not work for that business.

"Employers are not tying employees down and jabbing them or having them jabbed. They are saying you have a choice either do what protects the 'we' ...or choose to go elsewhere," Rosell said.

"We did not anticipate the narcissistic politicization of a public health crisis," Rosell said of the reaction to public health measures. "We've seen a focus on me instead of we."

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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