In the last 12-months, the world and our very way of life has been fundamentally altered by the global pandemic, and we have had to learn to manage the catastrophic health, psychosocial, social and economic effects that have emerged as consequences to COVID-19.
Recently, our attention has been re-directed to the hopes associated with the development of efficacious vaccines to combat the virus. Management of the pandemic has profoundly shifted to issues related to vaccine development, trials and efficacy, approval, production, distribution and scalable population rollout.
Understandably, this has generated high levels of anxiety about the global distribution of vaccines and access across countries, to vaccine hesitancy, concerns about equitable access to vaccines across various strata of populations, and anxious scrambles to be vaccinated.
As PsySSA, we believe that this pivotal moment in the disruption of the transmission chain of the virus must be guided by several ethical principles that will allow us to advocate effectively for equitable COVID-19 vaccine access for all.
First, we must advocate for equitable global production, distribution and access to vaccines across national boundaries. This will, of necessity, have to include innovative and robust procurement strategies by government, technology transfers to allow for multiple sites of production, licensing agreements, and cost caps, as we are concerned about the growing trends towards vaccine nationalism, and the possibilities of pandemic profiteering at the global public expense.
Second, all populations must have equal access to vaccines if they choose to utilise them, irrespective of geographical location, private or public healthcare access, or socio-economic status. This must no doubt involve public-private partnerships to facilitate large-scale rollout, and the subsidisation of vaccine costs, as we remain concerned about the deepening of social inequalities that have surfaced through the pandemic.
Third, PsySSA supports the prioritisation of frontline healthcare workers in the rollout of the vaccine. However, it must be recognised that some healthcare workers face disproportionately greater risks in comparison to others. Frontline healthcare workers who are treating COVID-19 patients (e.g. in ICUs, COVID wards, etc.) must be prioritised over others, as they face enormous risks of exposure (through aerosol transmission, viral load exposure and contact transmission) compared to individuals working in settings where there is relatively less close contact with patients. PsySSA has received a number of requests to advocate for psychology professionals to receive vaccines as a priority, and we are committed to this as part of our advocacy for the prioritisation of all frontline healthcare workers. PsySSA also recognises that psychology professionals may have differential vulnerabilities, exposure to, and risks of contracting the virus, and we should resist any forms of vaccine competition and professional privilege that risk fracturing and dividing health professionals in a vaccine rollout that is not rationally and ethically considered. This is a time when healthcare workers must stand united.
Fourth, no available vaccines should be discarded when eligible populations are available to receive them. Recent logistical challenges in the rollout of the vaccines have meant that excess vaccines that have already been removed from the cold storage chain have been available. Under these circumstances, any available priority groups (including psychology professionals) should be allowed access to the vaccine, so that we avoid vaccine wastage and reach as many people as possible in the fight against the virus.
PsySSA is in the process of collating data on psychology professionals to advocate for their inclusion in various phases of the vaccine rollout process and is committed to ensuring that our members and all healthcare workers are prioritised in a manner that is proportionate to risk and exposure. In line with our appreciation of plural organisational formations, we continue to work alongside multiple groupings, to build a broad-based coalition of advocacy groups, and to leverage our networks in the national health sector to this end.
We will keep you, as our members, informed regularly on this.
The PsySSA Presidency