Experts debate CDC guides for vaccine: ‘white people dying will level playing field,’ teachers are too white

A New York Times article on the coronavirus vaccine raised plenty of eyebrows with experts’ claims that more elderly white people dying would “level the playing field.”

The piece by behavioral health reporter Jan Hoffman and health-care correspondent Abby Goodnough, published earlier this month, focused on the “debate over the trade-offs” of who should get the vaccine for COVID-19 first. Appalled readers noted that the article provided a sneak peek into what government-run healthcare could soon look like.

The writers noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines as the first wave of vaccines began rolling out, placing health-care workers and “the frailest of the elderly” at the top of the list of recipients.

But they also pointed out that federal and state health officials had already been debating who would go next as “lobbying from outside groups to be included, is growing more urgent.”

(Image: CBS News screenshot)

“Ultimately, the choice comes down to whether preventing death or curbing the spread of the virus and returning to some semblance of normalcy is the highest priority,” the article stated.

It was further noted that an “independent committee of medical experts that advises the C.D.C. on immunization practices will soon vote on whom to recommend for the second phase of vaccination,” sparking immediate concerns about “death panels” deciding the fate of citizens.

Members of the committee making recommendations to the CDC apparently put the lives and health of essential workers ahead of people 65 and older and, as the article stated, members not only used scientific evidence but also “social justice concerns” in making their decisions.

According to the New York Times article:

That position runs counter to frameworks proposed by the World Health Organization, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and many countries, which say that reducing deaths should be the unequivocal priority and that older and sicker people should thus go before the workers, a view shared by many in public health and medicine.


Doctors and experts quoted in the article, then expounded on the CDC guidelines and the decisions behind them.

“Older populations are whiter,” Harald Schmidt, an expert in ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said.

“Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.”

Schmidt noted that at least 18 states intend to use the CDC’s own “social vulnerability index” in making determinations about the distribution of the vaccine.

An infectious-disease epidemiologist at Harvard actually argued that teachers should not be considered essential workers because “they are often very white” and are college-educated.

“Teachers have middle-class salaries, are very often white, and they have college degrees,” Marc Lipsitch said. “Of course they should be treated better, but they are not among the most mistreated of workers.”

Economist Elise Gould disagreed with the assessment because teachers, she argued, are “disproportionately Black and brown.”

“When you talk about disproportionate impact and you’re concerned about people getting back into the labor force, many are mothers, and they will have a harder time if their children don’t have a reliable place to go,” Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said.

“And if you think generally about people who have jobs where they can’t telework, they are disproportionately Black and Brown. They’ll have more of a challenge when child care is an issue,” she added.

Though the article made plenty of other eyebrow-raising points, the experts’ remarks were enough to cause alarm, as Jason Compson, an associate producer of TBS’s Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, summarized.

“Just a little peek into government run healthcare right here,” Twitter user @MollyRatty tweeted in response.


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