Should healthcare workers be prioritised during the COVID-19 pandemic? A view from Madrid and New York

Diego Real De Asua, Joseph J. Fins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


While COVID-19 has generated a massive burden of illness worldwide, healthcare workers (HCWs) have been disproportionately exposed to SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection. During the so-called 'first wave', infection rates among this population group have ranged between 10% and 20%, raising as high as one in every four COVID-19 patients in Spain at the peak of the crisis. Now that many countries are already dealing with new waves of COVID-19 cases, a potential competition between HCW and non-HCW patients for scarce resources can still be a likely clinical scenario. In this paper, we address the question of whether HCW who become ill with COVID-19 should be prioritised in diagnostic, treatment or resource allocation protocols. We will evaluate some of the proposed arguments both in favour and against the prioritisation of HCW and also consider which clinical circumstances might warrant prioritising HCW and why could it be ethically appropriate to do so. We conclude that prioritising HCW's access to protective equipment, diagnostic tests or even prophylactic or therapeutic drug regimes and vaccines might be ethically defensible. However, prioritising HCWs to receive intensive care unit (ICU) beds or ventilators is a much more nuanced decision, in which arguments such as instrumental value or reciprocity might not be enough, and economic and systemic values will need to be considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • COVID-19
  • clinical ethics
  • health workforce
  • resource allocation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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