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What’s Fair Regarding Vaccine?

By the end of this month, enough Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may be available to protect 20 million Americans against COVID-19, predicts Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

To whom does the vaccine go first? Health care personnel and older folks, we’re told — but it’s not that simple.

Presumably, states will get shipments of the vaccines which they can distribute to local health departments. West Virginia’s per capita share of 20 million two-dose sets of vaccine would be about 118,000.

That would treat fewer than one-third of our older residents. West Virginia has one of the highest proportions of people 65 and older in the nation, at 20.5%. Shouldn’t we get a bigger share than, say, California, where only 14.8% of the people are in that age group?

Hold on. We know Black people are far more vulnerable than whites, for some reason. So shouldn’t Mississippi, which is 37.8% Black, get proportionately more doses than Ohio, at 13.1%?

Hold on, again. Native Americans have more trouble than whites with the disease. Shouldn’t New Mexico, where the population is 11% Native American, get more vaccine than New York, at 1%?

You see the problem. Or do you? Do you want to be the DHHS bureaucrat who has to tell Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that her state isn’t getting as much vaccine as she’d hoped — so old folks in West Virginia, Blacks in Mississippi and Native Americans in New Mexico can be helped? Never mind Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Whatever formula the feds use to allocate vaccine, the buck will stop in state capitals and local health departments. Suppose Washington gives 369,000 sets of vaccine to West Virginia. That would be enough to treat everyone over 65. But what about the 60-year-old ex-miner with black lung disease? Shouldn’t he get the vaccine before the relatively healthy 66-year-old?

What about the 62-year-old teacher who, if she faces a classroom full of virus-carriers every day, is more at risk than her 65-year-old retired husband?

Ideally, I’d suggest a solution at this point. Do I look like a magician? There is no way to work this out without an enormous amount of controversy.

A special committee in Washington reportedly is working out guidelines for vaccine distribution. It will be governors, however, upon whom upset constituents take out their wrath. In many ways, the buck will stop with them.

Govs. Jim Justice of West Virginia and Mike DeWine of Ohio have my sincere sympathy.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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