These responses have been edited for clarity.
“Earlier this month, some students at Colorado College apparently were vaccinated at a clinic before they became officially eligible for vaccination. Understandably, the event caused debates about the ethics of the students’ action. Regarding the matter, I personally wonder how exactly the clinic managed to go against the state’s guideline on vaccine rollout. I agree with Sam Pfeifer that the clinic’s perspective provides crucial context of the controversy. It is unclear if the vaccines were leftover doses, although the original news article claims that this “does not appear” to be the case. Given the severity and the longevity of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., it is understandable that some students would choose to get vaccinated when the opportunity became available.
However, this is not what an opinion article published in The Catalyst two weeks ago argues, and it is the author’s justification of the students’ early vaccination that I want to dispute in this piece.
The author not only argues that the students’ particular action is ethically acceptable, but also challenges the very notion of “deserving” in the vaccine rollout process. Her argument can be broken down into three parts: First, young people need to be vaccinated because they are not immune to the disease and they are active spreaders of the virus. Second, the state’s prioritization of certain groups is based on subjective criteria that can be exploited. Third, “from a young generation’s perspective,” old people should not be prioritized to get vaccinated over the young because they caused climate change.
It is truly impressive how many logical fallacies and false assumptions such a short article can have, and how outrageously absurd the resulting arguments are. First, the author seems to suggest that vaccination is the only way to keep people safe from the disease when social distancing and mask-wearing are still effective disease-control measures. It is true that everyone can contract and die from COVID-19, but that possibility can be mitigated if people reduce non-essential travels and gatherings. CC students and young people in general can still keep social distancing and wearing masks to keep themselves and other people safe. Data that the author cites concern transmission during the summer of 2020, when no vaccine had been officially approved. The point of the data is clearly that young people, for various reasons, were not complying well with the extant disease control guidelines. The data are not the definitive proof that young people should get vaccinated, when the supply is scarce and the risk to develop serious symptoms is clearly higher among older individuals. Meanwhile, no one should be so unreasonable as to assume that they are invincible to the disease simply because the states do not think that they should be vaccinated at this time.
Second, the author used hearsay and a bizarre strawman argument to show that vaccination rollout criteria can be exploitable and unfair. Every social benefit program is at some risk to be abused and there will always be people who attempt to cheat the system for their own benefit. The existence of a few examples of frauds is not a refutation to the criteria themselves. Obesity, for example, remains a risky health condition that can lead to serious symptoms even if some varsity athletes with high BMI were vaccinated. If the author is so concerned for frauds, the reasonable action for states to take is better screening of vaccine recipients, not throwing the entire rollout order out of the window. The author also asks “should everyone in a pregnant woman’s household also be vaccinated to prevent her contraction of COVID-19? Does this unfairly favor people or families with a pregnancy over those without one?” The problem is that, of course, no government has claimed that healthy people in a pregnant woman’s household should be vaccinated at this time. In fact, on Colorado’s vaccine rollout website, the FAQ section contains the exact question about family members of people who are eligible to be vaccinated in early phases. The CDPHE explicitly states that at this time they cannot be vaccinated. Therefore, no one is “unfairly [favoring] people or families with a pregnancy over those without one.”
Third, the third part of the article’s argument is, at best, willfully ignorant and, at worst, cruel. According to the author, it is frustrating to protect the old because they are the ones that created climate change and all sorts of other issues that young people have the misfortune to bear. Setting aside the relevancy of climate change to the question of vaccine distribution, she makes it seem as if young people are not consciously contributing to the worsening of the climate crisis, as if old people are the ones who buy fast fashion clothes, who use the most electricity, and who travel the most.
I very much doubt that the author has a clear idea about the risk differential between college students and older people. According to data from CDC, people from the 65-74 age-group are about seven times more likely to be hospitalized and (staggeringly) 130 times more likely to die from COVID-19 comparing to those from the 18-29 age-group. In the United States, 80.6% of COVID-19 deaths came from the 65 and older age groups. When a society is attempting to preserve the lives of as many members as possible with limited resources, it makes total sense to prioritize the extremely vulnerable groups.
Over 400,000 elderly Americans have succumbed to the disease, leaving millions of families broken and traumatized, possibly for years to come. It appears that the author, in a desperate attempt to justify some of her peers’ actions, completely lost sight on the gravity of pandemic. During a time of turmoil, a time when unity and community spirit are urgently needed, she chose to publish a tirade against vulnerable members of the society who she believes to be at fault with arguments that make little sense. The great irony is that the author was trying to refute the image of young people being entitled and selfish, and she ended up writing exactly a piece that make herself and her peers appear to be remarkably self-righteous and arrogant.”
– Zhuang Xu ’20