DEBATE: Should people be able to pay to get the Covid-19 vaccine privately?
As the NHS rollout continues, should people be able to pay to get the Covid-19 vaccine privately?
Kristian Niemietz, head of political economy at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says YES.
The Covid vaccine is not a consumer good like any other, and it should not be allocated like one. It should, in the main, be allocated according to clinical need, not willingness or ability to pay.
But why should there not be a private sector-led, self-funded distribution channel on top of the vaccine rollout via the NHS?
If the main bottleneck were in the production of the vaccine, I would see a case for banning private sales. If the supply of vaccines were fixed, buying one privately would necessarily entail taking it away from somebody else (who, from a clinical perspective, might need it more urgently).
However, the main bottleneck seems to be in the logistics of the rollout, not vaccine production per se. If private sales make additional resources available for the setting up of a private, additional distribution channel, then surely everyone benefits.
This is not “jumping the queue”. This is setting up a parallel fast-track queue.
Tom Gardiner, a junior doctor working in a London GP practice, says NO.
My GP clinic yesterday was full of elderly and shielding patients whose lives have been turned upside-down by this pandemic. It has only strengthened my view that the coronavirus vaccine should be prioritised for those who need it, not those who can afford it.
Vaccine supply chain shortages are already well-documented. Allowing private companies to buy up valuable stock would be a mistake of monumental proportions.
Thankfully, the government has made it clear that everyone will be offered an NHS vaccine before private providers even have a product to sell. Pfizer has also said that it has “no plans” to supply the vaccine to the private sector “for the foreseeable future”.
This is good news — because a fragmented private vaccination market will also pose significant logistical challenges for the comprehensive follow-up analysis that will be essential if the national programme is to be effective.
This isn’t just another debate about public versus private healthcare provision. This pandemic is the biggest public health crisis in a century. The solution is a well-planned public vaccination programme grounded in clinical prioritisation, not a fragmented, inequitable system of queue-jumping that could see the people hit hardest by Covid-19 miss out yet again.
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