Attending to social vulnerability when rationing pandemic resources

J Clin Ethics. 2011 Spring;22(1):42-53.


Pandemic plans are increasingly attending to groups experiencing health disparities and other social vulnerabilities. Although some pandemic guidance is silent on the issue, guidance that attends to socially vulnerable groups ranges widely, some procedural (often calling for public engagement), and some substantive. Public engagement objectives vary from merely educational to seeking reflective input into the ethical commitments that should guide pandemic planning and response. Some plans that concern rationing during a severe pandemic recommend ways to protect socially vulnerable groups without prioritizing access to scarce resources based on social vulnerability per se. The Minnesota Pandemic Ethics Project (MPEP), a public engagement project on rationing scarce health resources during a severe influenza pandemic, agrees and recommends an integrated set of ways to attend to the needs of socially vulnerable people and avoid exacerbation of health disparities during a severe influenza pandemic. Among other things, MPEP recommends: 1. Engaging socially vulnerable populations to clarify unique needs and effective strategies; 2. Engaging socially vulnerable populations to elicit ethical values and perspectives on rationing; 3. Rejecting rationing based on race, socioeconomic class, citizenship, quality of life, length of life-extension and first-come, first-served; 4. Prioritizing those in the general population for access to resources based on combinations of risk (of death or severe complications from influenza, exposure to influenza, transmitting influenza to vulnerable groups) and the likelihood of responding well to the resource in question. 5. Protecting critical infrastructures on which vulnerable populations and the general public rely; 6. Identifying and removing access barriers during pandemic planning and response; and 7. Collecting and promptly analyzing data during the pandemic to identify groups at disproportionate risk of influenza-related mortality and serious morbidity and to optimize the distribution of resources.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Disasters*
  • Health Care Rationing / ethics*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Healthcare Disparities / ethics
  • Humans
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology*
  • Influenza, Human / mortality
  • Minnesota
  • Pandemics / ethics*
  • Prejudice
  • Program Evaluation
  • Social Justice*
  • Vulnerable Populations*