The ethical Exit Strategy: the path from relaxing measures to vaccination
Funded by UKRI
Duration: 10 months
Starting date: 1 June 2020
The current lockdown to contain the COVID-19 emergency, even as it is eased, implies a societal, economic, and psychological cost that is not sustainable for too long. The ‘exit strategy’ is and will be for quite a while the main focus of the public health and political debate, also in consideration of the not too remote possibility of a second wave of the virus in the coming months. But the exit strategy cannot be designed and implemented unless certain ethical decisions about trade-offs between values are made.
Although they might seem just technical decisions about epidemiology, economics, or psychology, many of the decisions in the exit strategy will actually be ethical decisions about how to weigh these different aspects against each other. This project addresses, in chronological order, three core steps of the exit strategies that require close ethical scrutiny:
At what point, and through which steps, will it be acceptable to start the path back to some form of normality, and how should this path be affected in case of a second wave?
What kind of contact-tracing technologies and procedures (e.g mobile app and human contact tracing) can be used during the transition, and how?
When we have a vaccine, which vaccination policy should be adopted?
From the way talk about exit strategy is currently framed, it might appear that it will be a matter of technical decisions or, as the Government put it, a matter ‘of taking the right steps at the right time, informed by the best science’. But this is only partly true. Policy makers will need to show commitment to ethical principles and be able to justify decisions to sacrifice certain values and principles for the sake of others, which will be unavoidable
For example, they might have to increase risk of illness or even death for certain individuals for the sake the psychological or financial interest of those who are being most heavily affected by the lockdown; to sacrifice to a certain degree privacy for the sake of public health in the use of contact-tracing technologies. This is not merely about “the best science”. These are ethical decisions.
It will not be possible to make these decisions without having a plausible story about which values will at some point have to be prioritized, and why. This is not only because policy decisions need to be ethically acceptable (which is always a requirement), but also because without appealing to certain ethical values, that go beyond merely technical considerations, it will be difficult to gain people’s trust.
This research will result in a set of recommendations, in the form of policy papers addressed to the relevant Government departments as well as academic papers, about how to make these necessary trade-offs between values in a way that can inform both public health policy and public health communication strategy.
Alberto Giubilini is a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and at the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and the Humanities, University of Oxford. He has a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Milan, and prior to joining the Uehiro Centre he worked in Australia at Monash University, University of Melbourne and Charles Sturt University. He has published on different topics in bioethics and philosophy, with a particular focus in recent years on public health ethics (including the ethics of vaccination, of antibiotic resistance, of challenge studies, and of coerciveness of public health measures more generally). He recently published the book The Ethics of Vaccination (Palgrave MacMillan 2019).
Authored by Cristiana Vagnoni, Elizabeth Rough and Sarah Bunn, this House of Commons Library briefing paper references several pieces of work by Alberto Giubilini and colleagues from Oxford Uehiro Centre and Oxford Martin School.
This Commons Library briefing paper provides an overview of UK vaccination policy. It includes an introduction to the science of vaccination and covers UK vaccination programmes, as well as considering the response of the Government to the UK's loss of the World Health Organization's (WHO) measles elimination status.
"The UK “Exit Strategy”, which aims at safely easing the restrictions introduced in March 2020 to contain the COVID19 epidemics in the UK, needs to balance different values and priorities, beyond protecting the population from the virus. The task will be made even more difficult by the fact that Exit Strategy will have to be responsive to likely new spikes of COVID-19 cases, if not by an actual second wave of the virus."
THIS Institute Report: 'Pandemic Ethics: Testing times: An ethical framework and practical recommendations for COVID-19 testing for NHS workers'
"The report sought to identify and characterise the ethical considerations likely to be important to the testing programme, while recognising the tension between different values and goals. The project was guided by an expert group and by an online consultation exercise held between 27 May and 8 June 2020 to characterise the range and diversity of views on this topic. The 93 participants in the consultation included NHS workers in clinical and non-clinical roles, NHS senior leaders, policy-makers, and relevant experts. The project report emphasises that getting the COVID-19 swab testing programme for NHS workers right is crucial to support staff and patient safety and broader public health. It also recognises that COVID-19 does not affect all population groups equally. People who are socio-economically disadvantaged or members of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups may face distinctive issues in relation to testing."
Giubilini, A., J. Savulescu, Stopping exploitation: properly remunerating healthcare workers for risk in COVID-19 pandemic. Bioethics, forthcoming 2021
Giubilini, A., Vaccination ethics, British Medical Bulletin, forthcoming 2021
Giubilini, A. , Why you should not (be allowed to) have that picnic in the park, even if it does not make a difference Think!, forthcoming in issue 58, 2021
Grimwade O, Savulescu J, Giubilini A, et al 2020. Fair go: pay research participants properly or not at all. Journal of Medical Ethics 46 :837-839 on journal website here.
Grimwade, O., J Savulescu, A Giubilini et al 2020. Payment in Challenge Studies: Ethics, Attitudes and a New Payment for Risk Model, Journal of Medical Ethics, Vol: 46(12): 815–826 [PMC7719900]
Giubilini, A. 2020, Using individuals as (mere) means in management of infectious disease without vaccines. Should we purposely infect young people with coronavirus? American Journal of Bioethics, 20, 9: 62-65 Open Peer Commentary on journal website here (subscription required).
Rainey, S. and A Giubilini 2020, Return to status quo ante: the need for robust and reversible pandemic emergency measures. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, forthcoming.
Previous Related Publications
Giubilini, A., (2019), 'Ethics of Vaccination', (Palgrave Macmillan) [Freely available open access content NBK538383].
Giubilini, A. 2020 An argument for compulsory vaccination: the taxation analogy. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 37, 3: 446-466 on journal website here.
Giubilini, A. and J. Savulescu 2019. Vaccination, risks, and freedom: the seat belt analogy. Public Health Ethics, 12, 3: 237-249 on journal website here.
Giubilini, A. et al 2019 Nudging immunity. The case for vaccinating children in school and day care by default. HEC Forum, 31, 4: 325-344.
Meiring, JE, A Giubilini, J Savulescu, VE Pitzer, and AJ Pollard. 2019. Generating the Evidence for Typhoid Vaccine Introduction: Considerations for Global Disease Burden Estimates and Vaccine Testing through Human Challenge. Clinical Infectious Diseases 69 (Supplement_5): S402–S407 on journal website here.
Giubilini, A., J Savulescu, 2019. Demandingness and public health, Moral Philosophy and Politics, 1, 6: 65-87 on journal website here.
Giubilini, A. , T. Douglas, J. Savulescu, 2018. The moral obligation to be vaccinated: utilitarianism, contractualism, and collective easy rescue. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, 21, 4: 547-560 on journal website here.
BBC Sounds: The Real Story 'Covid vaccines: An opportunity for science?' [Dr Giubilini's contribution appears at 37:00 - 40:00] (27 November 2020). Vaccines appear close to deployment. But how many people will be willing to get it?
BRINK How Do We Overcome Europe’s COVID-19 Skepticism? (7 January 2021). As Europe starts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, many European governments are facing high levels of vaccine skepticism among their populations. In France, polls suggest 46% of the population would reject a COVID-19 vaccine, if offered. And similar levels are found in Poland and Hungary.
Út úr kófinu! Covid-19 – siðferðileg álitamál [ethical issues] (10 December 2020). YouTube discussion with Dr Jón Ívar Einarsson, Þorsteinn Siglaugsson and Dr Vilhjálm Árnason. The participants discuss some of the ethical issues relating to Covid-19. Is it morally justified to ignore the consequences of antiviral measures when deciding on disease control measures? What are the ethical issues when it comes to the possible obligation to vaccinate or to infringe on the human rights of people who do not choose to be vaccinated? Is all human life equally important? Is it morally justified to consider the life of a young person more important than the life of an elderly person, as is often the case when deciding on treatment options in the health care system? See organisation Út úr kófinu!website.
The ConversationShould COVID-19 vaccines be mandatory? Two experts discuss (25 November 2020). Alberto Giubilini and Vageesh Jain. Some have suggested vaccines should be made compulsory, though the UK government has ruled this out. But with high rates of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the UK and elsewhere, is this the right call?
talkRADIO interviewed by Dan Wooton (5 November 2020) [available on YouTube, Dr Giubilini's contribution appears at 27:10]
Should the elderly be first in line for the vaccine?
Should key workers and the young be ahead of the elderly when it comes to administering COVID-19 vaccines? Oxford University’s Albert Giubilini argues the case. He believes that with the vaccine in short supply it needs to be considered whether those at greatest risk of catching the virus need to be at the top of the list to receive it. Interview on CGTN Europe (22 December 2020).
Dr Jón Ívar Einarsson, Þorsteinn Siglaugsson, Dr Alberto Giubilini and Dr Vilhjálm Árnason discuss some ethical issues relating to Covid-19. Is it morally justified to ignore the consequences of antiviral measures when deciding on disease control measures? What are the ethical issues when it comes to the possible obligation to vaccinate or to infringe on the human rights of people who do not choose to be vaccinated? Is all human life equally important? Is it morally justified to consider the life of a young person more important than the life of an elderly person, as is often the case when deciding on treatment options in the health care system? (10 December 2020).
The pros and cons of mandatory COVID-19 vaccination
Should the UK government require people to get vaccinated for COVID-19? Online discussion/survey with Alberto Giubilini and 'Bad Boy of Science' Samuel Gregson (4 December 2020).
talkRADIO with Dan Wootton
Interviewed on lockdown ethics. Dr Giubilini's contribution appears at 27:10 (5 November 2020)
Covid-19: who should be vaccinated first?
Alberto Giubilini interviewed by Katrien Devolder (21 September 2020)
After healthcare and some other essential workers, it might seem the most obvious candidates for a Covid-19 vaccine (if we have one) are the elderly and other groups that are more vulnerable to the virus. But Alberto Giubilini argues that prioritising children may be a better option as this could maximise the benefits of indirect immunity for elderly and other vulnerable groups.
Should vaccinations be compulsory?
Alberto Giubilini interviewed by Katrien Devolder (5 March 2019)
Why do some people refuse to have their child vaccinated? Are there any good reasons not to vaccinate one’s child? Why should one have one's child vaccinated if this doesn't make a difference to whether the community is protected? Why is vaccinating one’s child an ethical issue? In this interview with Dr Katrien Devolder, Dr Alberto Giubilini (Philosophy, Oxford) discusses these and other questions, which he addresses in his new book 'The Ethics of Vaccination' (downloadable for free from Springer website).