Ethics of Travelling for a Vaccine

I’m in one of the groups which has become eligible for vaccines in Florida,* and am currently in the “refresh a bunch of pages and hope for an opening somewhere” phase.

At the moment, I can’t even make it into the CVS scheduling page - I’m in a digital waiting room because of traffic. The site currently says there are no available appointments in my city, but there are some available not too far away.

Vaccines are zero sum right now - if I get one today, that means someone else does not.

So at what distance does it become unethical to travel for a vaccine? Am I morally obligated to stay in my geographic area? Can I drive 20 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour before I become an asshole? Is protecting myself and the people around me important enough to justify getting it wherever I can as quickly as I can?

For some reason, an hour feels like the limit to me. Maybe because I can’t get to another large city from here in less than 90 minutes.

(this is almost purely hypothetical - getting a connection and successfully booking an appointment is basically winning the lotto right now, in a week or two I’ll probably be able to get one in my area with minimal fuss)

*no thanks to Governor deSantis

I drove about an hour to a RiteAid where I got my vaccine. IMO, I am a resident of the state of Pennsylvania and qualified for vaccination under the state’s requirements. I would have driven two or three times as far without complaint.

Driving an hour, even 2 hours, to get a vaccine that you’re eligible for but just can’t get an appointment for in your immediate area, seems ethically fine to me. I would feel differently about traveling to a different jurisdiction because you’re not yet eligible in your own, but that’s not the case. I would also feel differently if your travel increased the risk of spreading the virus–if you were taking public transit, staying in a hotel, etc., but a 2 hour drive vs. a 10-minute one seems no riskier. I’m glad people are enthusiastically getting the shot; the more arms we get it into the sooner, the better.

Another wrinkle, implied above.

I am only available under federal guidelines which several pharmacies are following. I am not eligible under Florida’s more restrictive guidelines. So what if I drove to Georgia?

(I don’t actually know if I’m eligible in Georgia. Replace with the state of your choice)

Two weeks ago, my wife acted as chauffeur for her elderly mother and stepfather, and drove them three hours, each way, from suburban Chicago to Springfield, IL, in order to get vaccines (at a public vaccination site operated by, I think, the Illinois National Guard).

My mother-in-law had tried, and failed, to get an appointment for vaccines, locally, for three weeks. In the Chicago area, there’s just far more demand than there are available sites and appointments, and it’s still a logistical cluster-f**k.

As Illinois residents, and in the 65+ age group, they were absolutely eligible for the Springfield vaccine site, and there was apparently more supply there than demand – they were able to easily set up an appointment over the phone, and when they got to the site, there was no line, no crowd, and they got in and out in under a half-hour. They were given appointment cards for their second shots, at that same site, as well.

I don’t see it as unethical, as they weren’t misrepresenting themselves, or going out-of-state in pursuit of the vaccines.

Morally speaking, you should stay in the same geographic area that your vaccines were allocated to. So if in Florida they are allocated by county, you should stay in the county. Traveling to another county is taking a vaccine away from someone in that county who should have gotten it. But if vaccines are distributed randomly throughout Florida without regard to population distribution, then traveling anywhere in Florida would be morally okay.

" A millionaire Canadian couple who [traveled to a remote community to receive a coronavirus vaccine intended for vulnerable and elderly Indigenous people…"

I find this couple’s actions to be morally fine.

" Spanish king’s sisters vaccinated on trip to see dad in UAE

The sisters of Spanish King Felipe VI have acknowledged that they were administered COVID-19 vaccines during a visit to the United Arab Emirates."

Good for them.

Well, I won the proverbial lotto. I will be driving a bit, but it’s not terribly distant. I appreciate the input!

I don’t know how federal distribution is working, but at the state level it was mostly limited to wealthy communities.

My sister in California is in the Kaiser Permanente network, supposedly the best-run HMO in the U.S. Last time I talked to her she said they had 9 million people signed up for 300,000 available vaccinations.

The three hospital chains here each have anywhere from 175,000-300,000 people signed up. Physicians are telling their patients to get any vaccination they can, anywhere they can. The state of Missouri has made a mess of their distribution program and allocated too much vaccine to rural communities - which in at least one instance resulted in hundreds of doses being thrown out because not enough people showed up to the state’s vaccine event. I was able to get vaccinated at a WalMart 110 miles from my house, and no, I don’t feel like I’m taking the vaccine away from someone else.

Here in CA the Governor is going on and on about “equity” in the vaccines distribution. Just yesterday the state announced another change to the vaccine rollout here (they say they are just adjusting things, but they really are just making this up as they go along). Anyway, 40% of the incoming vaccines will be targeted to specific counties with large communities of color that have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic, specifically the farming counties in California’s central valley. They are also upping the priority for teachers and child-care workers across the state. It’s been a clusterf%#k here as well.

Anyway, to the OP, you may have the option of traveling across your state to get the vaccine in an area where appointments are easier to come by, but perhaps people in that area don’t have that option, and yes, you may be taking a dose that was targeted at someone who is part of a community who has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic (at least, according to the logic being used here - it seems TPTB want people to get vaccinated in their home communities even if that means waiting).

That said, I would not hesitate to get the vaccine when I become eligible, anywhere in my state. For now, I am happy to wait my turn and let others who are at more risk go first.

I would say NO to crossing state lines, and a maybe to crossing County lines. Other than that, please stay safe and healthy

Why? This would be true if there were a nationally consistent, fair and well organized scheme to allocate and implement vaccination. Clearly there’s not, and that’s what’s motivating people to travel.

My thinking is that the area which is providing the vaccine has taken on some cost to do so, and that is based on the population of that area. So if vaccines are distributed based on county demographics, the county has sized the vaccine sites based on that county’s population and undertaken some cost to give the vaccines. The citizens of that county paid the taxes which help fund that county’s vaccine site. If someone from another county gets a vaccine, then they get the benefit without having contributed the cost. In the big scheme it’s not a huge deal, but just from a moral standpoint I would say the fair thing is to not use resources from another county which were meant for and paid by the people in that country.

As a former ‘client’ of Kaiser Permanente, I can tell you this is pure propaganda. For anything beyond doc-in-a-box service they were utterly shit.

I’ve been tempted to travel to one of those states where they can’t get enough people to take the vaccines they have because in California I’m not even on their schedule of vaccine phasing and it has become readily apparent that it will be after summer before I have any opportunity to get vaccinated thanks to all of the vaccines that keep “falling off the back of a truck” and apprently into the arms of private schools, wealthy Silicon Valley companies, and the entertainment industry. My only other hope is that the federal government takes over distribution of the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine (which I would prefer anyway) and starts offering it directly once they get production ramped up. The combination of corruption, ineptitude, public resistance, and influence on vaccine distribution has been shocking even to me and I think I’m pretty jaded in general regarding politics and public responsibility.


I think cost & payment is completely irrelevant. Demand vastly outstrips supply, vaccine is not being supplied on the basis of who is willing to pay for it. I would happily pay >$1000 for my vaccine - I’m not saying I’d bribe someone to jump the queue, just that’s what it’s worth to me if that were the cost when it’s my turn.

This situation is so fucked up, I have a hard time criticizing anyone for traveling to get a vacc. So long as you aren’t blatantly misrepresenting your eligibility under whatever requirements you are able to figure out.

Go for it.

I disagree strongly. They handled my cancer with care, concern and speed.

I get to pick my Personal care MD (within limits) and he is amenable to my needs. Their pharmacy is cheap and with really fast mailing.

Sadly, Kaiser SoCal didnt get much in the way of Vaccines until after I got mine. But that’s not their fault. Somehow the state wanted Kroger and Magic Mountain and the Dodgers to give the shots instead of a medical care facility.

This gets into a fundamental problem with the pandemic response in general and the vaccination effort in particular, to wit that this is a national problem (e.g. if one area has an outbreak, then people traveling from that area to others will spread contagion) and given the complex balance of logistics, training, setting up testing and vaccination centers, et cetera, pushing it down to the states and in many cases from there down to the counties will result in the massive inequalities that we’ve seen. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a rich area or a poor one; getting as many people vaccinated as possible broadly across the country and through demographics that are most at risk is the fundamental problem in getting the country back to something approaching normal in terms of education, economics, and essential services. And not only have some states (and not just the poor ones) totally bungled the pandemic response, we have so many states that have turned various preventative and protective efforts such as distancing, wearing masks, online schooling, et cetera into a political and philosophical issue instead of a recognition that a pathogen doesn’t give a fuck about your “states’ rights” and (if it had volition) would be in favor of your “right to breath freely” because that allows it to transmit faster and further, which is as much of a problem as the pathogen itself in terms of feeding political divides over nonsense and bullshit.

Ideally, every state and county would be provided clear guidance by a non-hobbled CDC as well as federal aid where necessary to ensure that there are good testing and tracing systems to quantify the spread of disease and focus preventative efforts where necessary while ensuring that there is maximum utilization of vaccines in vulnerable critical demographics. Nobody would have to travel anywhere outside of their normal range, and those in remote locations would be served by an outreach effort to protect isolated communities. Instead, we have a mishmash of priorities, many of which are scientifically unsound, combined with corruption, underserving neglected and particularly vulnerable groups, refusniks following the guidance of the Day-Glo Orange venerant and others insisting that SARS-CoV-2 is “fake” and that the global outbreak is a “plandemic”, and general corruption and ineptitude by governments and health services that were never constituted to deal with this scale of a health threat. If only every health department had their own Leslie Knope.


I agree. With things so fucking disorganized, the only ethical constraint I feel is just don’t lie. Plus, for me personally, if there were a line with people behind me who are more at risk, and people behind me were literally going to be turned away at the door, I would come back another day.

But I was strongly encouraged by various other people who had done so to make the 4-hour drive to a huge facility in the next state, which for whatever reason seems to have constant supply of vaccine, yet is being underutilized. They don’t make appointments, you just line up. I asked the screener if I qualified, fully prepared to just drive home if I didn’t. Her response was to tell me to encourage other people to make the drive too. Sure enough, there were ~300 people lined up when they opened, and by the time I left the recovery area (a large hall) I’d estimate 200 were already in it, less than an hour into the day. No line left outside, and I think by lunchtime there would have been staff siting around with shots ready to go and nobody to give them to. Go figure.

Another problems is that the state of Missouri, the counties, the hospitals, and the private pharmacies all have their own priorities, and their own scheduling.

The hospitals have mostly used up all their vaccines so far just vaccinating their own people.

The county health departments are supposed to be limiting eligibility to their own residents. But some counties have more vaccine than they have takers, and they’ve opened up to non-residents. On the other hand, there have been plenty of cases where people have shared their authorization codes with others. Whoever designed the signup program didn’t think to make each authorization code unique to one person. As a result, one county health department disqualified 1,900 people who had signed up using shared authorization codes that the original recipients had sent to friends.

But when the Missouri state department of health sends out authorizations to the next group of people in the pool, they make it clear that those codes are good for any state run vaccination event, anywhere. Missouri is supposed to be divided into regions, but people who live in one region are free to sign up for an event in another region, assuming there’s an open slot.

The private pharmacies are in a separate distribution pool altogether. As I posted upthread, I was able to get vaccinated at a WalMart 110 miles away, and I know people who’ve gone even further from home. The folks at WalMart are happy to see us.