Thursday, December 3, 2020
Ifeoma Ajunwa (my soon-to-be new colleague!) has just published a short piece in Harvard's Bill of Health, "OVID-19 Immunity as Passport to Work Will Increase Economic Inequality." Some excerpts:
As scientists develop increasingly accurate tests for COVID-19 immunity, we must be on guard as to potential inequities arising from their use, particularly with respect to their potential application as a prerequisite for returning to the workplace.
A focus on immunity as a yardstick for return to work will only serve to widen the gulf of economic inequality, especially in countries like the U.S., which has severe racial health care disparities and uneven access to effective healthcare. This focus could also serve to diminish societal support for further understanding and curtailing the disease....
History has shown that immunity to disease as passport to work can draw a dividing line based on both socio-economic factors and racial group memberships. Writing for Slate, Rebecca Onion notes that “[w]hen yellow fever ravaged 19th-century New Orleans, wealthy white people who ‘acclimated’ [i.e., developed immunity] were rewarded.” White people who had survived yellow fever benefited from “immunoprivilege,” while others suffered social and economic repercussions. In the 21stcentury, a focus on coronavirus immunity rather than prevention of infection could play out similarly.
To acquire immunity, an individual must first survive the disease. Surviving the disease necessities adequate healthcare. Yet, access to healthcare services in the U.S. is unequal. While some COVID-19 patients, like President Trump, are able to receive high levels of healthcare (and even experimental drugs), others lower on the socio-economic spectrum do not have health insurance and can only receive emergency care. Thus, immunity as passport to work would only serve to increase inequality as it would reward those who could afford the care needed to survive.
It is also worth noting that people of color are generally more likely to die of the disease than their white counterparts. Could this lead to a social (even if not scientifically proven) view that white people have greater immunity to the disease than others? If so, imagine how this social view could play out in racial employment discrimination as businesses re-open. Past research shows that racial minorities have had to contend with genetic discrimination in the workplace. ...
It's definitely worth reading the entire piece, so check it out!