Constructing an ethical framework for priority allocation of pandemic vaccines
Allocation of scarce resources during a pandemic extends to the allocation of vaccines when they eventually become available. We describe a framework for priority vaccine allocation that employed a cross-disciplinary approach, guided by ethical considerations and informed by local risk assessment.
Published and grey literature was reviewed, and augmented by consultation with key informants, to collate past experience, existing guidelines and emerging strategies for pandemic vaccine deployment. Identified ethical issues and decision-making processes were also included. Concurrently, simulation modelling studies estimated the likely impacts of alternative vaccine allocation approaches. Assembled evidence was presented to a workshop of national experts in pandemic preparedness, vaccine strategy, implementation and ethics. All of this evidence was then used to generate a proposed ethical framework for vaccine priorities best suited to the Australian context.
Published and emerging guidance for priority pandemic vaccine distribution differed widely with respect to strategic objectives, specification of target groups, and explicit discussion of ethical considerations and decision-making processes. Flexibility in response was universally emphasised, informed by real-time assessment of the pandemic impact level, and identification of disproportionately affected groups. Model outputs aided identification of vaccine approaches most likely to achieve overarching goals in pandemics of varying transmissibility and severity. Pandemic response aims deemed most relevant for an Australian framework were: creating and maintaining trust, promoting equity, and reducing harmful outcomes.
Defining clear and ethically-defendable objectives for pandemic response in context aids development of flexible and adaptive decision support frameworks and facilitates clear communication and engagement activities.