Should We Deny Treatment to the Unvaccinated?

I’ve lost my patience with those who refuse the safe and effective COVID 19 vaccinations. The evidence is that nothing will change their minds.

If they were only putting their own personal health at risk, I might buy their argument about their “freedom.” Yes, you are in fact free to be an idiot. But by refusing vaccination they’re impacting all of us in two important ways. First, they’re providing more opportunities for variants, which are keeping the pandemic going longer than it needs to. And, second, they’re flooding hospitals and having the effect of delaying even routine treatments for things like heart disease that may become more acute. This harms innocent people who have done the right thing and gotten vaccinated.

In these ways unvaccinated people are causing unnecessary death and suffering. So, it’s a fair question: If you have refused to do the easy and right thing to protect your health and that of others, should you get a bed that might go to someone more deserving?

It seems clear that individual doctors in private practice can deny treatment on the basis that the patient had refused to follow sound medical advice. And, in fact, some doctors are doing just that. But my question is about a hospital that is near capacity in its emergency room and ICU.

This is a real question being grappled with in real time. In fact, a task force in Texas has been considering the ethical and practical questions surrounding it. For now, they’ve decided not to take action.

Here’s how the ethics consultant Monty Self discussed the question on the website Goodfaith Media. That’s a medical website with Baptist roots, so it hardly comes out of a secular or liberal tradition.

If resources are limited during a public health crisis, then the goal is to save as many people as possible. It becomes about successfully allocating limited resources.

If there is only one ICU available for two COVID-19 patients who have the same general level of health, but one is vaccinated and the other is not, using vaccination status would make perfect sense in making a determination of who receives the available bed.

The vaccinated patient has a better chance of survival and, on average, will spend less time in the ICU, freeing up resources more quickly for another patient.

The reasoning here is not about punishing the non-vaccinated patient or out of anger towards the unvaccinated. It is about maximizing resources for the best outcome based on good science and data.

Refusing to treat an unvaccinated patient simply because they are unvaccinated is inappropriate. Like all real ethical questions, context is important.

Look, I fully admit it. I AM angry at the unvaccinated. But I’m also not in a position to make these calls because I’m neither a doctor nor a hospital administrator. If I were and I was facing what is essentially a triage situation, it appears, at least based on the view above, that it would be ethical to deny treatment.

Welcome to the 307th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

12 thoughts on “Should We Deny Treatment to the Unvaccinated?

  1. Dave, should hospitals deny admittance to someone obese? They had every opportunity to lose weight by exercise and a healthy diet. Or an addict who overdosed?


  2. If you don’t want the government to tell you what to do, let the free market decide. Isn’t choice the ultimate freedom? I don’t think the government should require anybody to get a shot, but if you want the government to help you or your family with Covid related expenses, you need to show proof of up-to-date vaccination. If you choose not to get vaccinated, then give up the benefit of the government helping with the staggering medical bills that you and your family will incur and will bankrupt just about everyone. The free-market insurance industry will insure just about anyone or anything. So if you want insurance to protect your family’s financial well-being, you can pay for unvaccinated Covid coverage just like smokers that pay higher rates for all sorts of insurance.
    If you would like access to support from the federal government, it’s your choice to get the shot, and that benefit becomes available to you.


  3. Bur aren’t there thousands of vaccinated folks now sick with covid? The vaccine really isn’t a vaccine if people are still getting sick. Right? Oh and btw I am vaccinated.


    1. The Omicron variant is a lot more resistant to the vaccines, but vaccinated people seem to be getting hit with much milder symptoms. The folks crowding the ERs and ICUs are overwhelmingly not vaxed.


  4. Dave, please provide sources for your assertions. I’ve done this when you last lost your patience.

    The data does not back up your narrative.

    Being vaccinated does not reduce transmissibility. Being vaccinated only temporarily provides immunity, and that only to the alpha version of covid. This is uncontroversial. There are very significant numbers of the vaccinated getting omicron, initially it was only the vaccinated getting it in the US.

    Therefore, your premise is false.


      1. From WaPo: With the omicron variant spreading rapidly, the United States is all but certain to see a sharp rise in breakthrough coronavirus infections among vaccinated people. These cases were relatively rare in the pre-omicron days, but the new variant has shown an ability to slip past the body’s first line of immune defenses. That means many Americans who have gotten the shots will at some point test positive.

        From Bourla, Pfizer CEO: “When we see real-world data,” Bourla stated, “we will determine if the omicron is well covered by the third dose and for how long. And the second point, I think we will need a fourth dose.”

        Why would he lie?


  5. Dave, where do you stand on these vaxxed/unvaxxed issues ? This is from a Rasmussen poll, linked here:

    — 59% of Democrats favor forcing the unvaccinated to stay home at all times except for emergencies.

    — 55% of Democrats favor levying state or federal fines on people who decline the shot.

    — 48% of Democrats favor fines or imprisonment for people who publicly question vaccine efficacy.

    — 47% of Democrats favor a government tracking program to people who decline the shot.

    — 45% of Democrats support temporary relocation to “designated facilities or locations” for those who decline the shot.

    — 29% of Democrats favor temporarily removing your custody of your children if you decline the shot.


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