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The Ethics of Vaccine Tourism

Is It Ever Acceptable to Jump the Line?

The idea that a wealthy person with thousands of dollars to spend can go to another city in another country, such as Dubai in the UAE, and jump the line to get the two-dose vaccine while average Americans have to wait their turn is offensive to those of us who play by the rules. We believe there shouldn’t be two sets of rules: one for the rich and connected and another for everyone else. Jumping the line to get a vaccine sooner than when it becomes available in one’s state is cheating the system.

Even though it may not be illegal to engage in vaccine tourism, it is unethical. This is because it prioritizes one groups wants over others without a valid basis to do so. It’s a matter of basic fairness. It’s a form of equity. There should be a level playing field for all citizens with respect to how and when they get the vaccines. Other than prioritizing who should go first, as most states do with front-line workers in the health community and those 65-years old and older, the rest of the population should wait their turn.

Just imagine a long line to get into a movie theater to see a blockbuster film and along comes someone who rather than waiting their turn, they jump the line and move up in the queue. Maybe they feel entitled for whatever reason. Obviously, those who have been waiting our turn would be understandably upset. It’s the same with the coronavirus vaccine.

Jumping the line by going from one state in the U.S. to another state is different in that there is an easy way to control for such actions. Everyone should be required to show proof of residency in a state before they get the vaccine. This could be a driver’s license with their address or a utility bill or some other form of identification such as a pay stub.

The states have an ethical responsibility to serve their citizens first because they are residents; they pay taxes in the state; they are contributing to the economy of those states. Still, even if a state permits jumping the line, honest citizens should wait their turn in their home state. Just imagine if everyone jumped state lines. How would a state know how many vaccines to order? Jumping line

There is an expression in ethics that just because you may have a right to do something that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Jumping the line to get a vaccine is one such example.

In states such as Florida that administered vaccines to non-residents, at least in the early stages, the practice cheated residents by having them wait, often in long lines, to get their vaccines. There may be reasons to have exceptions in states where they are connected with other states, such as in New England with its unique geographical proximity. Here, it is acceptable to allow those residents to jump state lines as long as those states can come to an agreement to vaccinate anyone in the New England area who can prove residency and/or job. It’s not uncommon for a resident of New Hampshire to work in Massachusetts or vice versa.

What if your aging parent can’t get a shot because a number of vaccines went to out-of-state residents. How would you feel? For most of us it would be upsetting. Our parents are in a high-risk group. Any attempt to jump in front of them is wrong.

Ethics is all about one’s motivation for action. We judge right and wrong by how we treat others. We need to consider how our actions affect others before acting. Those who jump the line may feel entitled to do so but if everyone did the same thing, chaos might follow.

Is vaccine tourism ever acceptable? What if a person is in a high-risk group but can’t find a vaccine in their state? Certainly, we feel for such a person. There is a human side to all the decisions we make in life. We may feel tempted to loosen the rules in such cases. The problem is where do you draw the line? Which individuals with which underlying conditions should go first? Who makes that call? The problem with having exceptions to the rules is it can be an ethical slippery slope where different groups claim priority.

Our society is based on responsible behavior. Each of use depends on the other to do the right thing. This makes for an orderly functioning of society. Jumping the line to get a vaccine sooner goes against the very nature of acting in the common good, which is an underlying tenet of a civilized society.

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on March 2, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on Facebook at: and on Twitter at: