My Sufferers Want Me. Can I Give up?

I live in a city that offers Covid vaccines to volunteers who have worked at a vaccination site for 15 hours. Unsurprisingly, the demand for volunteer slots far exceeds supply. I got my first shot last week. I have more volunteer shifts planned for the next few weeks. Should I give these shifts to others so they can be vaccinated? Does the answer change when I’m sure my shifts are going to friends I know are also hardworking volunteers? I feel obliged to continue to volunteer because a) I don’t want to go away now that I have the vaccine; and b) even after just one shot, it is probably safer for me to interact with patients (who are old or otherwise at risk) than with someone who has not been vaccinated at all. However, I also feel obliged to have someone vaccinated. Elaine, Dallas

Your vaccination was done early not to get you to volunteer but to make your shifts safer for you and those you serve. Stopping undermines this purpose. You’re considering quitting so someone else can be vaccinated. But someone will get that dose, whatever you do. You asked yourself the question about the “duty to have someone vaccinated”. For example, suppose you asked if it was okay to play the system to favor one or two of your friends. I’m sure this prospect doesn’t suit you well.

Having special weight on you and your friends doesn’t mean you can ignore the moral demands of others.

According to the logic of this “duty” that you claim, each of your hardworking friends should spend as little time as possible on site to get vaccinated and then pass the opportunity on to someone else. Indeed, your job is to do your job and acknowledge that the vaccination program does not exist for the benefit of those who work there. Volunteering was a gift; However, if you see work as a means of vaccinating friends who otherwise don’t qualify, you run the risk of becoming the handle. They would only distract vaccine doses from people who have been declared eligible by a vaccine distribution system designed to achieve a variety of goals. Allowing people who work at a vaccination site to have special treatment for their friends is not one of those goals.

In my state, and possibly elsewhere, food bank volunteers are given priority access to coronavirus vaccines. Is it ethically correct to volunteer at a food bank to get vaccinated earlier? Name withheld, Somerville, Mass.

The best kind of people doing what is right for the best of reasons. The moral saint would selflessly volunteer to the food bank as a way of serving the disadvantaged in her community. You admit that you are not the perfect person. But volunteering for the food bank, even if for less than admirable reasons, is still a good thing. Once again, vaccination is no reward for this good deed; There is a need to reduce the chances of people (including you) getting infected in the food bank. However, it can also be an incentive to sign up, as people in your community obviously know, and in those circumstances, it is not very likely that you will receive a lot of undeserved praise for showing up. Then, if you thought up the job of carousel among your otherwise vaccine-free friends, you would be abusing the agreement. If your motives are selfish, make sure your actions are overboard.

Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at NYU. His books include Cosmopolitanism, The Honor Code, and The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity. To submit a request: send an email to; or email The Ethicist, New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10018. (Provide a phone number for the day.)

Comments are closed.