Pandemic Ethics


Risk, Ethics, and Public Policy

What are the ethical tradeoffs involved in decisions to mandate the wearing of masks or "lockdown" schools, restaurants, and other public spaces? What do we owe to those who take on additional risk to provide essential services during the pandemic? In what ways can/should ethics inform public policy during and after the crisis?

Suggested Readings

1. Covid-19 and the Ethics of Risk

2. Method in Philosophy and Public Policy: Applied Philosophy versus Engaged Philosophy

Jonathan Wolff 

Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy

Oxford University


Katharina Pistor

Edwin B. Parker Professor of Comparative Law

Columbia University

Property Law and the Pandemic

Much of existing inequality is shaped by property law that priviledges some individuals and their assets over others, particularly in times of crisis. How does the evolution of property law and property rights help determine vulnerability and precarity in the pandemic, with growing profits for some and crippling debt for others? What policies will be essential to a robust and inclusive post-pandemic economic recovery?

Suggested Readings

1. Empire of Law

2. Governing Access to Essential Resources

Florencia Luna

Director of Bioethics

Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences-Argentina

Who Gets the Vaccine First?

This episode considers the principles that ought to govern the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. What is the case for and against vaccine nationalism? How might existing models and allocation plans fail to show equal moral concern for those most vulnerable to harm from Covid-19 and the pandemic-related economic crisis?

Suggested Readings

1. An Ethical Framework for Global Vaccine Allocation

2. Identifying and Evaluating Layers of Vulnerability: A Way Forward

Justice, Race, and the Pandemic

In this episode, we discuss the racial wealth divide in the United States and the role historical injustice plays in determining vulnerability during the pandemic. In what ways does the crisis appear to be exacerbating wealth and health inequalities? What policies can ensure a more just and secure post-Covid society?

Suggested Readings

1. White Supremacy is the Preexisting Condition: Eight Ways to Ensure Economic Recovery Reduces the Racial Wealth Divide

2. The Black-White Wealth Gap Left Black Households more Vulnerable

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad

Chief of Race, Wealth, and Community

National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC)

Joan Tronto

Professor of Political Science

University of Minnesota

Care in Crisis

The pandemic underscores the importance of care and the workers essential to providing that care. In this episode we ask if policy and politics reflect that importance. What reforms could help countries best meet the care needs of their citizens during the pandemic (and beyond), while combating inequalities in and from gendered divisions-of-labor?

Suggested Readings

1. Care Goes Viral: Care Theory and Research Confront the Covid-19 Pandemic

2. Care as a Political Concept

3. Creating a Caring Economy: A Call to Action

Business Ethics in a Pandemic

In this episode we discuss the responsibility of business during the current economic and public health crisis. In what ways, if any, do the failures of government agents to effectively respond to the crisis shape these responsibilities? What duties, if any, do creditors and landlords have to those unable to make payments due to Covid-19 driven unemployment?

Suggested Readings

1. Justice Failure: Efficiency and Equality in Business

2. Prioritizing Democracy

Abraham Singer

Assistant Professor of Management

Loyola University Chicago Quinlan School of Business

Nursing in a Pandemic

In this episode we discuss nursing during a global pandemic. What challenges do nurses face duirng the pandemic? What is the morale of members of the nursing profession, and are their concerns and expertise taken seriously? What practices or policies can make it easier (or harder) for nurses to continue to perform their essential work effectively?

Suggested Readings

1. CDC Says Nurses are at High Risk for Covid-19 among Health Workers

2. The Impact of Covid-19 on the Global Nursing Workforce

Beth Hawkes

Acute Care Nurse and Nursing Development Specialist

Columnist at

Childcare in the Time of Covid

In this episode we consider the role of childcare and early childhood education in contemporary society and the challenges facing providers during the pandemic. Do providers have the resources necessary to perform that essential work? How can public policy better reflect the importance of this work and the value of workers who perform it, both during and after Covid-19?

Suggested Readings

1. The True Cost of Providing Safe Childcare During the Coronavirus Pandemic

2. This is What Childcare Could Look Like

Candice Deal-Bartell

Director and Founder

Cultivate Mankato Child Care Center

Danielle Wenner

Greenwall Scholar in Bioethics

Carnegie Mellon University

Vaccine Ethics

In this episode we consider essential questions for the production and distribution of vaccines. What is the ethics of ongoing vaccine trials, including the unblinding of those who recived a placebo, now that vaccines have been licensced for emergency use? Are current methods of vaccine distribution just and efficient? What can and should be done differently?

Suggested Readings

1. Ethical Considerations for Current and Future Covid-19 Trials

2.Licensing Domination: Foreign Will and Social Benefit

Covid-19 and the Future of Work

The pandemic is accelerating trends toward greater automation and digitization in the economy. In this episode we consider the economic and moral impact of these trends, including rising inequality in and a greater capital share of the fruits of economic growth. How does government policy actually subsidize labor-replacing technology? Why might institutional reforms be necessary to encourage worker-friendly innovation and a free and  inclusive post-Covid economy?

Suggested Readings

1. What We Owe Essential Workers

2. Automation and New Tasks: How Technology Displaces and Reinstates Labor

3. Give Workers a Fighting Chance

Daron Acemoglu

Institute Professor of Economics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Sanjay Reddy

Associate Professor of Economics

New School for Social Research

Covid, Poverty, and Intellectual Property

In this episode we discuss the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the global poor and the role that intellectual property plays in facilitating (or hindering) vaccine production and distribution. In what ways might an approach centered on advanced market commitments (AMC) engender vaccine hoarding? What is the ethical and economic case for moving Covid-19 vaccine technology into the public domain (and how should pharmaceutical companies be compensated)?

Suggested Readings

1. It's Time to Use Eminent Domain on the Coronavirus Vaccines

2. The Economic Case for a People's Vaccine

3. Hoarding is Undermining a Key Effort to Vaccinate the Global Poor

Anahí Wiedenbrüg

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow

Oxford University

Eric Winsberg

Professor of Philosophy

University of South Florida

Responsibility for Debt and Crisis

Debt has risen dramatically as a result of the pandemic, with many countries likely to face sovereign debt crises in the years to come, even if they spend comparatively little keep their citizens safe, housed, and fed during the crisis. What principles ought to govern the repayment of such debt? What responsibilities do governments, private creditors, and NGOs have to ensure that the servicing of debt doesn't perpetuate injusitce and bring about further economic and humanitarian crises?

Suggested Readings

1. What Citizens Owe: Two Grounds for Challenging Debt Repayment

2. Responsibillity for Financial Crisis

3. Global Debt Grew by $19.5 Trillion During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Modeling the Covid-19 Pandemic

How is the admonishment to "trust the science" different in the case of Covid than the human impact on climate change? How do scientists create models under conditions of great uncertainty? Did governmental decisions to impose lockdowns violate a duty to base those decisions on sufficiently robust scientific evidence?

Suggested Readings

1. How Government Leaders Violated their Epistemic Duties During the Crisis

2. Epistemic Risk in Representation

3. Climate and Coronavirus: The Science is not the Same

Roland Pierik

Associate Professor of Legal Philosophy

University of Amsterdam

Should Vaccination be Mandatory?

What are the central ethical and legal principles involved in decisions to make vaccination mandatory? Should the same principles that apply to goverments also apply to employers and other associations? Are there relevant differences between vaccinations for Covid and other infectious diseases, such as measles or polio?

Suggested Readings

1. Mandatory Vaccination: An Unqualified Defense

2. Good Reasons to Vaccinate: Mandatory or Payment for Risk?

3. Vaccination Policies: Between Best and Basic Interests of the Child