Professor gets heat after saying ‘whiter’ elderly should wait for vaccine

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An ethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania sparked a heated debate by suggesting essential workers should get priority for the coronavirus vaccine over vulnerable senior citizens, because the workers are more likely to be minorities.

“Older populations are whiter, ” Harald Schmidt told the New York Times. “Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.”

The Centers for Disease Control should use its own “social vulnerability index” to decide how to protect older people who are more at risk, Schmidt said. The index uses measures from the Census like poverty, unemployment, disability, housing status and education to determine which communities are most likely to feel the impact of a public health emergency. At least 18 states plan to use the index, he told The Times.

At least 221,000 of those who died from COVID-19 were over 65, or about 80 percent of the total deaths recorded through Wednesday, according to CDC data. Those over the age of 85 are 630 times more likely to die from the virus than those aged 18 to 29.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield has said he believes priority should be given to people 70 and older who live with children or grandchildren, the Daily Mail reported.

Nursing homes in New York are expected to get vaccines starting Monday.

Schmidt’s comments provoked criticism from those who pointed out that nursing home residents can’t socially distance, and may be of all ages.

“It’s fine to call for vaccinating essential and frontline workers first,” said commenter Brenda Tippin, who identifies herself as a biologist. “But you had to elaborate and identify the elderly population as being ‘whiter’ and point to that as assumption they had more privileged lives and its time to level the playing field. Inexcusable!”

Others argued seniors who’ve been isolated for months on end are “literally dying of loneliness,” and that he was arguing that the elderly are “not only nonessential; they are actually quite expendable.”

His Twitter mentions was filled with memes that said things like “Old Live Matter,” and screenshots showing a chart that puts white men with the shortest life expectancy, at 76.71 years.

“I don’t understand how you can be considered an ethics professor,” posted a user with the handle Portia Smith. “Your worldview is anything but. Appalling.”

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