To Boost or Not to Boost

COVID-19 Health Care

         New Orleans     Dealing with the pandemic in the most basic ways has been a struggle for the last more than eighteen months for people all around the world.   The health impacts have been devasting.  In the United States, over 650,000 have died from the virus, eclipsing any other pandemic in our history now.  Worse, everyone from scientists to the editorialists at the New York Times are now saying that there is no time certain when we can say the fight with this virus is over.  We are just going to have to learn to live with it.

Enduring also seems to mean learning to abide our neighbors and bind together new communities that are divided between the vaccinated and the maskless resistors among us.  The challenge exists in the workplace as well.  Reportedly there are 70,000 healthcare workers in New York State who are unvaccinated as the deadline for their termination approaches.  The Local 100 United Labor Unions executive board spent more time on this issue on a board call recently than on any other concern, given the fact that virtually our entire membership consists of essential workers.  The leadership was united that everyone should have the shots, but was angry and perplexed about the different ways that employers were dealing, or not dealing, with outbreaks in the workplace.

On a personal level, the pandemic triggers a host of ethical issues for all of us, many of which we are all avoiding.  This is becoming especially clear when considering whether to get a booster shot, when already vaccinated.  President Biden has been clear:  get ‘er done!  The FDA and the CDC seemed uncertain in their advice, though finally arguing that at risk individuals, health and school workers, and people over 65 should have a booster.  The White House claims we have enough vaccines on hand for all Americans, including children once the shots are approved for them.

So, what’s the issue?

Mainly, that we live in one world, and much of the world is still waiting and in the grip of the pandemic.  Africa is reportedly less than 5% vaccinated.  Many governments in the Global South can’t afford the vaccines.  India, where a lot of the vaccines are manufactured, was shipping before handling their own population, until stopped.  America’s leadership has been challenged, although we have finally pledged more than a billion doses.  President Biden has called for pharmaceutical companies, who are making gazillions on the pandemic, to share their formulas with the world, but so far, it’s just talk.  Moderna is especially questionable, since the federal government totally financed the production and creation of its vaccine.

In most cases, the existing vaccines are sufficient without a booster, so, ethically, should we run down to get a booster, when so much of the world is without?  Facebook reports from many of our friends tell many of us that CVS and other drug stores for weeks have been offering the booster for free for just about anyone who asked.  We might rationalize that, hey, what’s our one little shot, when countless billions are needed?  Others might say, why should we take the risk, if in an encouraged group, when calling the shot wrong could end up aggravating the shortages of hospital beds in our communities?

Is there a clear and certain correct answer?  Not yet, in my book.  For my money, I think I’ll wait and continue to focus on everyone getting their first and second shots, but I think we should all embrace the struggle with this question that for a change balances the rest of the world against our own privileges.