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Is It Moral To Cross State Lines For A COVID Vaccine? It's Complicated

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Some states are widening COVID-19 vaccine eligibility faster than other states, which means some "vaccine hunting" residents are crossing state lines for the jab.


On today's program: Ohio is opening up vaccines to anyone who can safely receive it, but commonwealth residents thinking of getting vaccinated in Ohio should weigh the impact of cutting the line says a bioethicist; and advocates for transgender and gender-nonconforming people are giving community members self-defense kits pepper spray and stun guns, which they say are necessary for their survival.

The ethics of ‘vaccine hunting’
(0:00 — 8:00) 

Today, Ohio opened up coronavirus vaccines to all people 16 years and over who can safely receive a vaccine.

For many in our region who want the vaccine, Ohio is a short drive away. It’s tempting. But is vaccine hunting ethical? Vaccine hunting means a person will search for a vaccine, sometimes outside their community or state, and even potentially lying to “cut the line.”

Michael Deem, assistant professor in the School of Nursing and Center for Global Health Ethics at Duquesne University, says there are arguments on both sides. But vaccing hunting may exacerbate current inequities in the vaccine roll-out process for those who do not have the resources to travel across state lines. 

“The sorts of individuals who would be able to travel across state lines to receive a vaccine are probably going to be resource-rich in terms of health and time,” Deem says. 

Vaccine equity is a problem public health officials are trying to address when creating plans to distribute doses. 

Deem says there are circumstances where crossing state lines for the vaccine would be beneficial to greater public health, particularly if someone lives in a state where COVID-19 restrictions and mitigation measures have been loosened.

“Viruses don’t respect county lines, they don’t respect state lines, and they don’t respect international boundaries,” Deem says. “The truth is, whether one is well off in terms of time or resources or not, anybody who does get vaccinated incrementally increases the benefit to public health.”

While there are some larger public health benefits to vaccine hunting, Deem says it’s important that states ensure those who need the vaccine most get it first, rather than opening it up to non-residents. 

“One concern we might have is whether states that are vaccinating non-residents are neglecting certain communities or subpopulations in their state who have historically have been underserved by health care,” Deem says.

Ohio’s Department of Health says providers should attempt to vaccinate any individual, regardless of their county or state of residence.

Members of the transgender community take protective measures through self defense kits
(8:12 — 18:05) 

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2020 was the deadliest year on record for transgender and gender non-conforming people.Forty-four openly trans and gender non-conforming people were killed, and two-thirds of these victimsidentified as Black women. Now TransYOUniting, a Pittsburgh-based trans advocacy group, is helping its community defend itself.

Dena Stanley, the founder of TransYOUniting, says as a Black trans woman she experiences fear and anxiety just leaving her house due to the rise of transphobic violence  This prompted the organization to take direct action by making and distributing defense kits. 

“One of the reasons why we decided to do this is because there have been so many deaths, so many attacks, and it’s progressively getting worse and no one is really doing anything to combat that at all, so who’s going to take care of, but us?” 

The defense kits include a mini stun gun, boxcutter, personal alarm, pepper spray keychain, and a two-in-one seat belt cutter and window breaker.

William Lukas is an educator and community organizer with the Pittsburgh Trans Defense Fund who pitched the defense kits idea to Stanley in January due to the rise in transphobic violence.  Lukas says mutual aid and community support for trans self-defense efforts have been around for decades, but recently regained support and attention in the pandemic. 

“A lot of people are realizing that the government, politicians, and police are not capable of providing care and safety to community members. In fact, [they] are only capable of deploying violence,” Lukas says. 

Stanley says policies at the local and state level must be implemented in order to protect the trans community from further violence, but despite advocacy efforts, many transgender protections remain idle in the Pennsylvania State Legislature.

“There’s a lot of talk, but there’s no action,” Stanley says.

Both Stanley and Lukas say the trans community has no choice but to use weapons to protect themselves from violent threats.

“It’s not a way to end violence, it’s a way to protect us,” Stanley says, “We are already being attacked, we’re already put in systems for just trying to survive, what else are we going to do?”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
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