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Katie Areté Senior

Congrats to Katie! on Winning 2nd Place in National E-Ethics Bowl Intramurals Essay Contest

We are so proud of Katie, Areté Senior, on winning Second Place in the National E-Ethics Bowl Intramurals Essay Contest Judged by the Columbia Law School Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity!

Here’s her essay concerning ethical considerations in the official government distribution of vaccines during COVID-19.

NEEBI Essay Contest

Since the time of the founding fathers, liberty has been the basis of the American identity; however, complete liberty is not what many of the founding fathers intended. As Thomas Hobbes orated, “If every man were allowed this liberty of following his conscience, in such difference of consciences, they would not live together in peace an hour.” [1] This sentiment is reflected in Federalist No. 51 where James Madison expressed that in order to have a government “administered by men over men” the government must be enabled “to control the governed”. [2] This is the very essence of the Social Contract Theory: citizens must surrender certain liberties in exchange for certain protections. [3] 

Per the Social Contract Theory, it is surmisable that the government’s duty is to provide its citizens with completely safe vaccines. In return, eligible citizens are obligated to take the vaccine in order to ensure public safety for all; however, the transaction is not this simplistic. According to a poll conducted by the Boston Globe, 23% of Americans will refuse the Covid-19 vaccine, posing a significant threat to the possibility of herd immunity, and the consequences would be dire: the prolongation of Covid-related safety measures will only worsen the already faltering economy and more families will lose their loved ones. [4] This connects to the tenants of act utilitarianism. Originally popularized by Jeremy Bentham, act utilitarianism dictates it is moral to do what will result in the most happiness for the group as a whole. [5] With regards to Covid-19 vaccination, whilst it would upset a minority of the population, vaccination is necessary for the greater good because it will save lives and normalize the economy; therefore, there is no conflicting right to require vaccination, presuming it is safe. [6]

In recent weeks, the United States government has paid for hundreds of millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses with the intention to distribute them free of cost to Americans for the duration of the pandemic. [7] [8] From a deontological and utilitarian standpoint, in accordance with the Social Contract, it it the duty of the government itself to uphold its promise to distribute vaccines in a way that can have the most impact. [9] Therefore, it is pertinent to prioritize vaccinating front-line workers. While other groups have the ability to practice social distancing, front-line workers simply cannot and, if infected, they can easily spread the virus to other essential workers, exacerbating the situation. [10] The elderly and at-risk populations should be prioritized after front-line workers. Clinical trials have not yet extensively studied the vaccines’ safety in children under 16, pregnant individuals, lactating individuals, HIV+ individuals, and those with allergies. [11] It would be highly unethical to vaccinate these individuals, especially if it were mandatory, without conclusive evidence of safety via clinical trials.

While vaccines are a controversial issue in today’s society, it is the citizen’s obligation to trust the government with regards to vaccine safety and distribution so everyone can enjoy the liberties of normal life once more.


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