I’m Not Eligible for the Vaccine Yet. Can I Hunt for a Surplus Dose?

I’m Not Eligible for the Vaccine Yet. Can I Hunt for a Surplus Dose?

03/16/2021

The magazine’s Ethicist columnist on whether securing a dose for yourself means taking someone else’s spot in line — and more.

By Kwame Anthony Appiah

I’m a college student, and I recently learned that my city is going to be opening up spots on the Health Department website for anyone to be vaccinated if there is a surplus of vaccines. We’re still in the first phase of vaccination, but if I were to look frequently at the vaccination website, I could in theory get an appointment.

Since I am a healthy, young person who is not an essential worker or at risk, should I wait to get vaccinated in hopes that someone at greater risk or more essential could take the spot? Or should I keep looking at that website and take the dose as soon as it appears? I’m not taking someone else’s spot, or am I? Ben, Montana

With anything perishable — whether it’s a head of lettuce or a defrosted carton of Covid-19 vaccines — you can have excess and spoilage amid an overall shortage. The minimum Pfizer vaccine order is a tray with about 1,200 doses; once the vials begin thawing, they have to be used in five days. With all the authorized vaccines, a vial, once opened, must be used within six hours — for Johnson & Johnson’s, it’s two hours at room temperature. Each Pfizer vial has up to six doses. Johnson & Johnson, which has a minimum order of 100 doses, puts five doses in a vial; Moderna will soon put 14 doses in each vial.

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