Lesson of the Day: ‘Who Will Get the Coronavirus Vaccine First?’

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Lesson of the Day: ‘Who Will Get the Coronavirus Vaccine First?’

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Featured Article: “Who Will Get the Coronavirus Vaccine First?” by Abby Goodnough

A panel of experts advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued its recommendations for who should be the first to receive coronavirus vaccinations in the United States.

In this lesson, students will learn about the nuances of distributing the vaccine and the decisions that states will be asked to make as they carry out the C.D.C.’s recommendations. Students will also grapple with the ethics of deciding who should be able to get the vaccine and when.

Teachers: If you’re looking for an introduction to the coronavirus vaccine, you can pair this lesson with our Lesson of the Day “Pfizer’s Covid Vaccine: 11 Things You Need to Know.”

Scientists have been racing for months to develop a safe and effective vaccine that will provide immunity against the coronavirus. Two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, appear close to gaining approval for their vaccines.

These companies estimate that there will be enough vaccine doses available to administer to 22.5 million Americans by January. Since there are more than 300 million people in the United States, who should get these first doses? Hospital workers? Teachers? Residents in long-term care facilities? People with diabetes, asthma or other risk factors? Police officers?

And who should wait?

One example that highlights the ethical dilemmas policymakers are facing is prisons. Some of the largest Covid-19 outbreaks have occurred in the nation’s prisons. Federal officials have suggested that corrections staff receive high priority for a coronavirus vaccine, but not the millions of vulnerable inmates held in U.S. facilities.

Roni Caryn Rabin writes:

They live in crowded conditions, sharing bathrooms and eating facilities where social distancing is impossible. They have high rates of asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

Many struggle with mental illness. A disproportionate number are Black and Hispanic, members of minority communities that have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

So should prisoners and other detainees be given priority access to one of the new Covid-19 vaccines?

What do you think? Should prison staff be prioritized for immunizations? What about prisoners? How about inmates who have certain health conditions that put them at greater risk?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. When it comes to deciding how to distribute the vaccine, what is the connection between the independent panel of experts advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the C.D.C. itself and individual states?

2. Who does the C.D.C. recommend should be first to receive the vaccine? What decisions will states have to make about distribution within that group?

3. Who are the second and third groups of people the C.D.C. has recommended receive the vaccine? Based on the industries in your region, what priorities do you think your state might have when deciding which sectors of essential workers to vaccinate?

4. How does the Pfizer vaccine need to be stored? How does that limit how widely the vaccine can be distributed initially?

5. When do federal officials estimate that people who are not in the priority groups will receive the vaccine?

6. How much choice do individuals have about whether to be vaccinated or which vaccine they will receive?

In the warm-up activity, you considered who should be prioritized for immunization within a prison community. Now, after reading the article, think about who else should be prioritized to receive a vaccine. Should factors like a person’s job responsibilities, health risks, living settings or identity be considered?

To have this conversation with your classmates, engage in a Big Paper Discussion, which can be done either in person or virtually in small groups.

The goal of the Big Paper Discussion is to silently read and interact with classmates’ ideas. You should read their words closely and ask questions or comment on what they have to say in order to advance the conversation.

After having a Big Paper Discussion, you can have a full class discussion and reflect on your classmates’ ideas and share any new thoughts you have.

Do you still have questions about how the vaccine will be distributed or about its safety or effectiveness? If so, write a question, in 25 words or fewer, and submit it using the form below. If your question is selected, it could be answered by Times reporters and public health experts and shared in The Morning newsletter.


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