Smoker Friendly

It is patently unethical that Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution prioritizes smokers.

Sofia Brickner, Staff Writer

With the ongoing distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine comes the precarious decision of who should be prioritized first in receiving it. For the state of Pennsylvania, smokers have just been moved to the front of the line, raising understandable controversy.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, persons ages 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions have been added to phase 1A of its vaccine allocation plan. Classified as a high-risk condition, smoking is now a part of this phase. Smokers and the obese, along with pregnant women, now are ahead of first responders and teachers in receiving the vaccine.

Following a similar approach to New Jersey and Mississippi in including smokers in phase 1A, this inclusion is a fairly new addition to the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

However, many residents are unhappy with Pennsylvania’s expansion to include those with underlying conditions according to CDC guidelines, which is prioritizing smokers. Essential workers, emergency first responders, frontline healthcare workers, and vulnerable seniors are arguably some of the more important groups to be prioritized in receiving the vaccine first.

Dave Kennedy, president of The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, has voiced his frustration towards this recent change.

“I don’t understand how you put people who choose to smoke ahead of the people who risk their lives everyday,” Kennedy said. “Our job is not a personal choice. We do what we have to do to protect the people.”

Concerned for the safety of his family, Kennedy feels uneasy having yet to receive the vaccine.

“The last thing you ever want to do is bring something like this to your family and cause them harm,” Kennedy stated.

John Eckenrode, vice-president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officer Association claimed, “If we could vaccinate everyone in jail, there is no one else to bring it inside. Now I have to worry about am I going to bring this home to my family? That’s a heavy weight to carry.”

Eckenrode shared his disappointed outlook on his officers being disregarded over smokers: “I really do believe that this administration and unfortunately many people in Pennsylvania don’t respect our profession and it’s very frustrating.”

Although having already received his first vaccine shot, local EMS leader Nathan Harig airs on the cautious side.

“Our firefighter and law enforcement partners who might respond to the same calls are now at a disadvantage because we’ve moved the line so far forward. I do have a lot of concerns,” said Harig.

While the allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be closely monitored by many, it is up to the Pennsylvania Department of Health to make the final call. For first responders, essential workers, and the elderly, it is a frustrating reality that smokers, since their habit or addiction places them into a COVID-19 high-risk group, will go to the front of the line for vaccinations.

There are many unanswered questions about how the state of PA will determine the prioritization of smokers, or whether they are simply prioritizing all smokers. For instance, how does one prove that he or she is a smoker? Does the smoker have to exhibit smoking-related lung damage such as emphysema? Would an otherwise healthy 30-year old smoker be prioritized over an 87 year old, someone with diabetes, etc.?

For our state, it should be defined exactly and with complete transparency which smokers are going to be prioritized due to their medical needs, instead of broadly grouping all smokers to receive the privilege of being first in line for vaccination.