Byrnes is joined by two philosophy colleagues, Alycia
LaGuardia-LoBianco, assistant professor, and Andrew Spear, associate
professor, as well as Heather Wallace, assistant professor of public
health. Two philosophy students, Julia Mariotti and Mallory
Wietrzykowski, are also part of the group.
Group members are developing ethical guidelines, as well as providing
ongoing advice for more immediate issues.
With a resource that scarce, at least initially, the first goal is to
ensure it achieves the maximum impact, Byrnes said. That means the
distribution helps as many people as possible, with fairness and transparency.
"In our current moment, transparency is really crucial,"
Byrnes said. "Rumors about the vaccine and its distribution will
move rapidly through social media. Once out, you can't hope to contain
those rumors. The only preventive measure we have is to keep the whole
process bathed in daylight."
Models from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health
Organization and others, have outlined priorities for distributing
vaccines and generally favor bolstering the societal infrastructure
first, then addressing those who are vulnerable, Byrnes said.
He said health care workers are almost universally considered first
in line to keep them healthy so they can be available to address the
surge of Covid cases and hospitalizations, on top of all the usual
health problems that afflict a community.
From there, professionals who are part of other critical community
infrastructure, such as pharmacists and firefighters, would likely be
prioritized, Byrnes said. The next step would involve moving on to
those with vulnerabilities, such as those in long-term care facilities
and nursing homes.
Byrnes is grateful for the opportunity to provide input and for the
students to see the discipline of philosophy at work, not only in a
field setting, but in one of great urgency.
Mariotti, a philosophy and biomedical science major, said her
experience with the work group is invaluable for her career
aspirations in health ethics. She came to Grand Valley with the goal
of being a physician, but a health ethics class with Byrnes helped her
find her true calling.
She said the pandemic has shown a spotlight on the importance of
"When I say I work in health ethics, people now automatically
know what that means," Mariotti said. "Obviously the
pandemic is troubling, but in a way it has brought attention to issues
that we would like everyone to think about more often."