Reciprocity as an Argument for Prioritizing Health Care Workers for the COVID-19 Vaccine




COVID-19, Utility, Deontology, Duty, Reciprocity, Priority Setting


During the recent debates on whether to prioritize health care workers for COVID-19 vaccines, two main lines of arguments emerged: one centered on maximizing health and one centered on reciprocity. In this article, we scrutinize the argument from reciprocity. The notions of fittingness and proportionality are fundamental for the act of reciprocating. We consider the importance of these notions for various arguments from reciprocity, showing that the arguments are problematic. If there is a plausible argument for reciprocity during the pandemic, this is most likely one that centers on the risk that health care workers take on while working. We argue that the scope of this argument is not plausibly extended only to health care workers. Other essential workers at risk are in the position to make the same arguments. We also argue that there is no compelling argument from reciprocity that makes reciprocating with vaccines, rather than by other means, necessary. Furthermore, allocating vaccines based on reciprocity will conflict with utility-maximizing. Given the weak state of the arguments, overriding concerns for utility seem unreasonable. 

Author Biography

Carl Tollef Solberg, Centre for Medical Ethics (CME)

Senior researcher at CME, UiO. Concerned with health priorities, medical ethics, death and health measures.


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2023-03-21 — Updated on 2023-04-01

How to Cite

Jølstad, B. and Solberg, C. T. (2023) “Reciprocity as an Argument for Prioritizing Health Care Workers for the COVID-19 Vaccine”, De Ethica, 7(2), pp. 28–43. doi: 10.3384/de-ethica.2001-8819.237228.