Countries around the world are focused on their COVID-19 vaccine coverage. Due to difficulties in securing vaccine shipments, governments are deciding how to maximize what they have. One way is to prioritize the groups to be vaccinated.
Strategies for free vaccine deployment highlight differences between welfare systems, principles informing how nations maintain social frameworks and how public resources are allocated. Are they based on a right to life, or because of a specific group’s perceived benefit to society?
There is a consensus internationally on the primacy of reducing serious illness, death rates and burden on healthcare systems. As a result, most countries are prioritizing inoculations for elderly people, those at risk of serious side effects or death if infected, and healthcare workers.
This is not the same for all countries. Some governments are deploying the vaccines that they have access to in other ways.
Social democratic countries with universal welfare systems, such as Finland, hoping to reduce the burden of illness and to protect the medical care system, have prioritized three groups, in order of precedence: frontline healthcare workers, personnel at around-the-clock care units and emergency care providers; people over 70, or aged 12 to 69 and deemed at risk of serious illness if infected; and those aged 16 to 69, from oldest to youngest, irrespective of profession.
Finland does not prioritize any profession other than healthcare workers for its vaccine lists, with the exception of specific personnel in charge of municipal elections.
Then there are countries, such as Japan and Ireland, that do not have a welfare state like Finland’s and whose vaccine deployment is implemented based on citizenship and rights. They do not specifically list non-medical practitioners as indispensable groups.
The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine demonstrates how liberal democracies emphasize practicalities with its stipulation that priority should go not only to healthcare workers, but also to those in occupations regarded as essential to society.
In developed nations in East Asia, such as Taiwan and South Korea, state governance is more important than social welfare or citizenship rights. This is why state employees in such nations have been given priority over groups at high risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.
The allocation of vaccines reflects the nature of a nation’s welfare system.
Taiwan’s vaccine deployment follows the same logic always used to allocate state resources.
When vaccinations and their allocation in the context of distinct welfare systems reveals which occupations a nation deems more important, it is imperative that attention is paid to whether citizens find this reasonable and acceptable, especially when resources are scarce, because it can easily lead to a perception of relative deprivation.
The vaccination rollout in Taiwan is a window into the nature of the welfare state in this country.
Lin Ying-nian is a social commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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