Ethics of COVID vaccine shopping

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) logos are seen in front of a medical syringe and vials. On February 27, 2021, the FDA authorized Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine for emergency use. Photo by Pavlo Gonchar / SOPA Images/Sipa USA.

Johnson & Johnson says it will ship out nearly 4 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this week — after the FDA authorized it for emergency use on Saturday. It’s a single shot and doesn’t need to be stored in special freezers. However, it’s slightly less effective at preventing severe COVID-19 symptoms than the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

That small difference in efficacy is opening big ethical questions. Will some people opt to wait for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine? Will state and local governments unintentionally create a two-tiered vaccination system by sending the Johnson & Johnson vaccine primarily to communities with historically poor access to health care?