An American university professor has sparked outrage after suggesting that the elderly should not be first in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine because they are more likely to be white.
Harald Schmidt, a professor of ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania - notably himself a white man - said in an interview with The New York Times that it would be justifiable to give essential workers higher priority not only due to the risk of front-line work, but also because they are more often from minority backgrounds, whereas the elderly are a largely white group.
“Older populations are whiter”, Mr Schmidt said, adding that, “society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit”.
The academic then attempted to retract his remarks in a tweet, saying that he “never espoused a race-only prioritisation”.
— Harald Schmidt (@harald_tweets) December 18, 2020
In the same New York Times article, another academic, Marc Lipsitch, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Harvard University, said that he was opposed to classifying teachers as essential workers, again pointing to race as his rationale.
“Teachers have middle-class salaries, are very often white, and they have college degrees”, Mr Lipsitch told The Times.
Netizens were thick and fast with condemnation of the remarks.
— Kgfunavuisi (@Kgfunavuisi9876) December 18, 2020
— Michael Olenick (@michael_olenick) December 18, 2020
— MOTM (@motmwrestling) December 18, 2020
— Mic Drop (@tweetiepie26) December 19, 2020
— Nick Frame (@TCfromUB) December 19, 2020
The above comes following the US’ first week of vaccine roll-out, which was aimed primarily at immunising healthcare workers in high-risk positions. The US government is set to hold a meeting on Sunday, 20 December to decide which social group will be in line to get the vaccine next. Based on the current voting trajectory, it appears that non-healthcare frontline workers are likely to be prioritised over the elderly.
The overwhelming majority of those who have died during the COVID-19 pandemic have been people over the age of 65. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans over the age of 85 are 630 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people between the ages of 18-29.