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Equitable vaccine rollout is ethically and medically essential

<h5>Protestors hold sign reading “COVID SUPPORT FOR ALL” at FitzRandolph Gate.</h5>
<h6>Marissa Michaels / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Protestors hold sign reading “COVID SUPPORT FOR ALL” at FitzRandolph Gate.
Marissa Michaels / The Daily Princetonian

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is well underway in the United States with nearly 25 percent of the population being fully vaccinated. Yet the distribution of the vaccine has been far from equitable. Within the Princeton community, students face barriers to accessing the vaccine that are indicative of its uneven accessibility and reveal greater implications about healthcare throughout the country. 

Simply making an appointment to receive a vaccine is a significant challenge in and of itself, as availabilities are posted rather randomly and fill up very quickly. Under this type of system, one is most likely to score a vaccine appointment if they have extensive time on their hands to scour the various providers’ websites in search of an opening. However, even with unlimited time on your hands, one cannot always be sure exactly when new appointments will be posted on which websites, so scheduling a vaccine is, to a certain degree, left up to luck. 

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Though there is no need for a social security number, medical insurance, or legal immigration status to receive a vaccine, many vaccine sites have been requesting such information anyway, making it even more difficult to schedule an appointment. The inclusion of these fields, with or without loopholes, makes the scheduling process unnecessarily more complicated. As we strive to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, undocumented immigrants are therefore targeted yet again, faced with unique hostilities while trying to receive medical care. 

However, the challenges of vaccination extend beyond the scheduling process; accessibility of vaccination sites also proves to be a great obstacle. Given the scarcity of appointments, when one is able to find an appointment, there is a very slim chance that the provider is located nearby. Instead, many find themselves either having to travel hours to get a vaccine, thus incurring significant travel costs, or having to forgo the highly coveted appointment that they were able to grab. For students at Princeton, this hurdle may look like accomplishing the near-impossible task of coordinating vaccine times with a friend in order to split transportation costs.

Some students have created a spreadsheet to facilitate carpools to vaccination sites, but still one cannot rely on the slim possibility that they share a similar vaccine appointment time and location with other students. Thus many students are still left with the burden of covering transportation costs, searching for a nearby vaccine appointment, or ultimately forgoing vaccination because it is too cumbersome. This quandary of Americans needing to choose between receiving health care and economizing is not a new phenomenon; unfortunately, many Americans have been faced with this same dilemma when considering therapy or purchasing an EpiPen

Though an effort has been put forth to make the COVID-19 vaccine free and accessible to Americans of all backgrounds, its implementation highlights the vast inequities of healthcare in the United States. While President Biden has emphasized to the American people that we are all in the fight against COVID-19 together, vaccine rollout indicates otherwise.

The stark contrast in the accessibility of the vaccine according to one’s wealth and immigration status evokes larger questions of justice; these inequities seem to suggest that people merit health care according to certain privileges. However, this is far from the case; on a human level, everyone deserves medical attention. Wealth should not dictate one’s health so strongly. Yet even on a practical level too, until everyone gets vaccinated, our country will still face issues of spread and contagion.

Only once the vast majority of our population gets vaccinated will events that we once considered normal become safe again. From both of these standpoints, uneven vaccine rollout becomes quite troubling; as our country heals from the suffering of the COVID-19 pandemic, this enduring wound of inequitable health care rises to the surface once again. To properly care for Americans, both in this pandemic and beyond, our healthcare system must care for all humans, regardless of their status.  

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Ava Milberg is a first-year from New York City, N.Y. She can be reached at amilberg@princeton.edu.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the CVS website requires a social security number to schedule a vaccine. The ‘Prince’ apologizes for this error.

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