COVID-19 Vaccine: Should We Let People Die to Achieve “Race Equity”?

During this terrible pandemic, politicians have used experts to justify their policies. “Science,” we are told, instructs us to take certain steps: wear masks, quarantine the infected, wash our hands, and so on. Most Americans have complied because the goal has been to save lives, particularly the lives of older people. The inconvenience of wearing a mask or forgoing large holiday gatherings is a small price to pay to save Grandma and Grandpa. The old are vulnerable and deserve protection.

But 2020 has also been the year of “Anti-Racism” or, more accurately, a brand of obsessive race-think that contrasts sharply with the classical liberal tradition of anti-racism. The latter extols individual freedom and justice. The former views everything through the eyes of racial grouping. Classic liberals value equality under the law, while Anti-Racists demand equity through unequal treatment under the law. If any policy has a disparate impact on minorities, the Anti-Racists assert, that policy is ipso facto racist. Anti-Racist guru Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to be an Anti-Racist, contends that “there is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy.” In this view, every policy must be implemented with the explicit racial aim of achieving equity and “leveling the playing field.” This means discriminating in favor of minorities to remedy past discrimination.

In prioritizing who gets the COVID vaccine first (and who must wait), equity-minded activists have called for distribution that would not save the maximum number of elderly. What could be wrong with saving lives? The “problem” is that the elderly are too white. Harald Schmidt of the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics states:

“Society is structured in a way that enables them [white people] 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 and others argue that millions of essential workers should instead receive the vaccine because they are disproportionately “people of color.” Maximal distribution of the vaccine to the elderly might save many lives, these activists concede, but the loss of life is offset by the benefits of “leveling the playing field.”

This isn’t idle theorizing: CDC guidelines include race as a metric for deciding who gets the vaccine. Several states are also using “equity metrics” to channel the vaccination to blacks rather than the elderly. The reasoning is that blacks are somewhat more likely to die of COVID than whites. And, yet, those age 65-74 (excluded from this round of vaccination) are 90 times more likely to die than younger people.

It gets worse: far more elderly blacks will die as a result of this policy. What sense does it make to vaccinate a 25 year old African American teacher instead of a 65 year old African American retiree? If the latter dies, what consolation is it that his younger counterpart has helped the African American community achieve an equitable share of vaccinations? (The CDC is also setting the USA on an exceptional path: the WHO recommends vaccinating medical workers and the elderly first and other developed nations are doing just that).

If you thought that race preferences might be limited to college admissions or employment decisions, think again. The logic of affirmative action apparently knows no bounds. The slippery slope is upon us.

“Ideas have consequences,” tweets Coleman Hughes of the Manhattan Institute:

“The CDC is recommending the vaccine be given to essential workers before the elderly, even as they acknowledge that this choice will result in more deaths. Why? Because the elderly are less racially diverse.”

“If this doesn’t dissuade you from the notion that race-obsessed ‘social justice’ is a moral improvement over MLK-style color-blindness, then nothing will.”

Jonathan Bean is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and editor of the Independent book, Race & Liberty in America: The Essential Reader.
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